All I wanted was to keep my account… Soundcloud & Universal drove me to it
For the TL;DR version – read the original Do Androids Dance article by Nappy, or the ultra turbo version on BoingBoing
As featured on:
So pretty much all day I’ve been grinning from ear to ear. It’s an evil grin. A grin of vengeance. I feel like I’ve stuck it to the man, and the same time stabbed one of my friends in the back.
I shared the story of my Soundcloud account getting cancelled over copyright infringement, and it’s gone viral. Searching Twitter for the words “soundcloud universal” at this moment in time is returning a constant stream of tweets talking about this. Facebook shares of all the articles covering this have gone into the 10s of thousands.
When I threatened Soundcloud that I was going to the press, I wanted this much coverage, I just didn’t think it was going to happen. And all of this has happened because I wanted to promote the music that I love for the artists that make it happen.
Am I guilty?
I’ll say this first – as far as Soundcloud’s policy goes, I was 100% in violation of it. I uploaded material that legally in many courts of law in various countries would fall under “copyright infringement.” Stop reading here and make your judgement if you cannot see past these facts.
I get promo’d a lot of music. The promos are sent to me by labels and PR companies to get exposure for their artists. I’m prompted by these labels to make this music heard.
I love the music I play. All I want to do is make as many people as I can hear it and love it as much as I do. The feedback I get that nods towards me achieving this goal is what keeps me spending the hours upon hours to make it happen. What I hope is my endeavours ultimately end in someone converting into a customer – i.e. they buy the music, support the scene, and the scene continues to grow. It’s a beautiful ecosystem. At least I thought it was.
The music industry has repeatedly over the years been very protective of what many perceive is a dying business model, and have done their best to keep everything like the good ol’ days. They go as far as trying to get governments to defend what they do. Industries evolve. Technologies evolve. The majors have had the power to hamper innovation and progression for many years in favour of maintaining their profit.
You’d be amazed at how many of those labels that you thought were scrappy independents actually fall under a subsidiary of a major label. Rinse, for example, is a subsidiary of Virgin EMI, who belong to Universal Music Group.
Universal have been renowned for draconian protection of copyright for profit for many years. Back in April 2012 as news of a merger with EMI broke, Read Write Web postulated that this could be a downer on digital innovation for music. Talk about some amazing foresight right there.
In the hopes of gaining some leverage in this new music ecosystem, Universal Music Group wants to acquire EMI, a move that would reduce the number of major labels from four to three. It would certainly help Universal, but not everybody is overjoyed at the prospect. Among the concerns expressed about the proposed merger is the possibility that it would hurt innovation in the digital music space.
— ReadWriteWeb – How Digital Music Innovation Will Suffer if Universal Acquires EMI – 12th April 2012
When I first saw Soundcloud as a service appear all those years back I felt that it was a real step forward. The freedom to upload full tracks to the web in an accessible way was never heard of before. This service has flourished until now, where popularity has allowed the majors to get their claws back in by way of the DMCA. This law allows the majors to have Soundcloud by the balls at all times, and it’s such a flakey law that its existence still amazes me to this day.
Let’s bear in mind that the DMCA is a US Law, Soundcloud is a German company, and I’m a paying customer from the UK.
I used to just be on iTunes, until they moved the goalposts
So I have a fortnightly show on Sub.FM, playing Garage and Bass type music. I’ve been with the station for nearly 3 years and have been playing on Internet and pirate stations for over 15 years. My move to Sub.FM came with a change in my sound. The change was well received and I saw my popularity grow. I was podcasting the show on iTunes and saw steady growth of download numbers month-to-month. This growth began to plateau around June 2012. It coincided with a poignant event: Apple separating Podcasts out from iTunes.
It was apparent to me that most people were finding me through iTunes. They weren’t searching for “Garage Podcast” (because who does that, right?). They were searching for specific tracks and artists in the iTunes search. I was putting a full track list for every show in the podcast description and then people were finding me. This in turn connected them with my show, the listener heard new music and then from that they discovered new artists to follow. Does this work now? Of course not. Apple clocked on to the misgivings of track lists in podcasts, realised they couldn’t kill podcasts and came up with the “separating out to a new app” approach. Of course, this hypothesis is a little “tin foil hat” and can not be regurgitated as fact. The key fact for me is that my podcast has plateaued since that date, and I don’t think I’ve hit my whole potential audience.
Mixcloud was cool, Youtube was better until it sucked
Before the iTunes plateau, I was already thinking about what the next thing was for me to promote what I do. Mixcloud was a complete no brainer, as it was free to use, aimed at DJs, and had a decent enough looking interface. It’s a good thing to have whether it’s used or not, even as an archive. But I wanted more ears to hear me. Mixcloud wasn’t enough.
The next avenue I began to explore was YouTube. This was a journey fraught with hellish encounters. Nearly every episode was firing off some sort of warning like I’d just robbed a bank. They showed a few ads on my videos and removed some functionality, but all in all most of my mixes stayed up there functioning. What was great was the views. Some videos were getting nearly 8000% more listens on YouTube then they were vs Mixcloud. The audience was there, it was hungry, and I wanted to be in front of it. So I persevered with YouTube, dispite the copyright notices.
This brings me to one of my favourite comedians: Doug Stanhope. He had a bit from his Oslo: Burning The Bridge To Nowhere DVD that I found highly comical about the freshness of a part of a woman’s anatomy when they come from Norway. The fresh part I played on for the title of my show “Not Just Fresh, Norwegian Fresh.” To properly demonstrate the bit, I ripped that scene and uploaded it to my YouTube channel. There is lived for a few weeks with no grief. One would even assume that someone may have seen that clip and considered buying the DVD from that. It’s pure speculation, but that’s what I’d hoped.
One day, I tried to upload one of my 2 hour radio shows when I got a notification. I’m not allowed to upload that because it’s too long. What? What had I done? Upon investigation I’d found out that my account was in “Bad copyright standing.” I had to go through “Copyright School,” which consisted of answering questions on copyright, based on facts gleaned from a video I was forced to watch. I got a 6 month ban from lots of YouTube services, including live Hangouts and the ability to upload videos longer than 15 minutes.
Why did I get a YouTube ban? It was the Stanhope clip.
Who banned me?
That’s right – Universal.
Soundcloud is an amazing technology platform
So my YouTube audience was a no-go (at least, not without some convoluted workarounds). At this point I had more followers on Soundcloud than I did on Mixcloud. I’d heard stories of takedowns happening on Soundcloud and that is what had always made me nervous of taking the plunge, going pro and uploading all my sets there. Soundcloud is a awash with sets that would have been in the same vein as my radio shows and studio mixes, so I though “sod it, let’s do this.” In January 2014 I went pro and started uploading my sets to Soundcloud.
This has had nearly 200 plays in a day after uploading to Soundcloud. Check it out. DJ BrainZ Spring 2013 Promo Mix https://t.co/ECpQi8Y0O8
— Greg / Mr Brainz (@MrBrainz) January 14, 2014
Immediately I was reaping the benefits of this platform. More listeners. Better usability. More discovery from random listeners. Better embedded with 3rd parties. Soundcloud is a marvellous service from a technology perspective. Perhaps it was this level of freedom is what made the majors nervous in the first place?
Screw me once, shame on you. Screw me twice, shame on me?
After 5 months of freedom to upload whatever I wanted to Soundcloud, I uploaded my last show at the start of June. The show was one of the best radio shows I’ve had all year, and it featured veteran UK Garage MC Marvel. On the 2nd of June I got my first “strike” for copyright infringement. The first track in the mix was a remix of an Ellie Golding track. I know that UMG can get a bit protective of Ellie, so I was hoping it was she that caused the problem. I removed the first track and re-uploaded. This was no good, and strike two came pretty swiftly. During this period of having the episode taken down, I may have been on Twitter saying one or two nasty things to UMG. Was this a contributing factor to what came next? I don’t know. But I want to be transparent, and I stand by my words.
— Danny H (@Dannyb0yUK) June 6, 2014
So after demonstrating to UMG on Twitter that I have feedback that people directly buy music based on what they hear me play, I receive strike number 3. This was for a show that I uploaded back in January. They’d suddenly pulled one from the archives; deciding after 4 months that it’s infringing, and shut me down. This was the beginning of the end.
I’ve realized that I’ve spent probably spent 100’s of dollars on Juno/Beatport just because of your show. Some tunes I can find online for free, but I prefer supporting the artist. — Feedback from a survey of my podcast listeners in March 2013
I just got robbed – “legally”
Soundcloud’s Ts & Cs state that someone found to be infringing copyright 3 times can have their account terminated with no refund. I was paying €9 a month for the Pro plan to get unlimited uploads. The cancellation happened only a few days after they took a payment from me. To me, I’ve just been robbed. I’ve paid for a month’s service and only gotten a week’s worth. Copyright infringement under the DMCA is such a loose interpretation at times that I found it hard to believe that they could take my money with a straight face.
As a responsible hosting platform, we work hard to ensure that everyone’s rights are respected. In the case of rights holders, that means having processes in place to ensure that any content posted without authorisation is removed quickly and efficiently.
“In the case of users, that means having separate processes in place to ensure that any content removed in error can be reinstated equally quickly. If any user believes that content has been removed in error – for example, because they had the necessary permissions from Universal Music and/or any other rights holder – then they are free to dispute the takedown.
— Soundcloud’s response to Mixmag, 02/07/2014
The money wasn’t the biggest deal. I was about to lose the list of artists I follow on Soundcloud. I spend literally hours every week going through my stream to keep up to date on the latest releases and WIPs from all my favourite artists. I find immense value from it and that’s why I was quite happy to pay. They were going to take that away from me and I had no record of who I was following to keep track again. Along with that, I was handed a “lifetime ban,” stopping me from using Soundcloud for this purpose anyway. It was terrible. I didn’t want to lose all this data. I need it for my radio show. A begging email was the only way to proceed.
Soundcloud’s Customer Service Team actually replied to me
The following email exchange you may have seen on blogs already around the web. I’m going to post the conversation here verbatim for you to read if you so wish.
So to summarise: They stole my money using a US Law as an excuse. They said that the label in question had carte blanche to perform the takedown. So the faceless DJ gets his hard work destroyed and Soundcloud pocket unused fees based on the decision of a monkey sitting in an office somewhere in the States. To top it all they have no burden of proof and don’t have to go into detail as to which part of the audio they actually own.
How could Soundcloud let another company do this to their customers?
Furthermore, there are plenty of other “infringing” mixes as I pointed out that are still up and live. At what point do you get a pass from the industry? Who’s deciding the level of infamy that allows you to host mixes on Soundcloud?
Enter Nappy and DAD
A colleague of mine on Sub.FM, Nick from Mushpost forwarded the details of my exchange to Nappy at DAD (much to my initial dismay) as Nappy was already working on a piece to highlight some of Soundcloud’s other misgivings, including their upcoming data mining of users and poor refinement of their iOS app. All of this was bundled with my story into the blog that started it all. This blog has been picked up by multiple news outlets and shared an exponential amount of times. I couldn’t be happier. I can only imagine the size of the kittens that Soundcloud’s PR department have been shitting today. But I’m hoping they are large, dry and painful.
Here’s the twist – on the day that the article was published (a few days after my last email), Soundcloud refunded me €9 (my last month’s service) out of the blue. I just spotted it in my account. If they did this a few days before, this whole thing may have been avoided. Regardless, the refund was unprecedented, and they went back on their initial word. Does that mean they were actually worried about this getting out?