Dumb Labels, Laws (Not Google) To Blame for Music Blog Deletions
Google’s deletion of music blogs accused of distributing music without permission has proven to be a controversial topic this week, as one might expect. Some are calling it “Musicblogocide 2010,” according to The Guardian, whose in-depth article on the topic is titled: “Google shuts down music blogs without warning.”
Nobody likes to hear that music bloggers — who tend to write with infectious enthusiasm benefiting both fans and copyright holders — lost years of work when they may not so much have broken the law as grazed up against it. It seems especially unfortunate if they enabled an avoidable outcome by ignoring or being ignorant of the stakes of not taking the proper corrective actions when formally warned they were in violation of dreaded (and widely ignored) terms of service. (Deleted blogs include Masala, I Rock Cleveland, To Die By Your Side, It’s a Rap, Ryan’s Smashing Life, and Living Ears.)
But the biggest problem here is that the laws and organizations affecting music copyright don’t make any sense when applied to music blogs. Labels often give bloggers permission to post a given track, but that doesn’t stop their representatives from issuing takedown notices for those same songs, as Bill Lipold of I Rock Cleveland noted in Google forums on Wednesday and Thursday.
Lipold told Wired.com that Mute Records gave him permission to post the XX Teens’ song “Darlin” on his blog, for instance. Like most music bloggers, he intentionally breaks older links to songs to avoid running up expensive bandwidth bills by deleting MP3s older than two months. That didn’t stop the apparently automated enforcement system of the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) from alerting Google to this supposed case of copyright infringement.
You’re reading this right: Five years of Lipold’s labor of love was deleted, in part, because he posted a track with full permission of a label, and the track apparently wasn’t even online by the time the IFPI filed its complaint.
“If at any point during the process a human being actually clicked on the link and looked for the infringing content, then they would have realized it wasn’t there,” said Lipold. “Unfortunately, the bot the IFPI uses to flag piracy isn’t that smart… This bot makes a report for security at the IFPI and they forward the whole list on to Google. Google seems to accept their list as is, no questions asked.”
The thing is, Google doesn’t have a choice.
Leaving aside for the moment the question of whether music blogs are good or bad for the music industry, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act forces Google to take these actions — otherwise, it would lose the protection of the DMCA’s “safe harbor” clause and could be found liable for any copyright infringement on its blogging networks.
In a statement issued to Wired.com, Google maintains that it warned the affected music bloggers after each of the complaints that led to deletion (with one exception, as noted on its blog post on the topic Thursday night, in which Google says it restored the unwarned blogger’s account). Some music bloggers have claimed that they couldn’t file those notices because they didn’t know which songs the labels were complaining about, but Google says every notice e-mailed to bloggers included the URLs of the posts in question, and the notices we’ve seen do include the URLs.
“Each e-mail includes information about the risks regarding repeat offenses and a link to our DMCA policy page with instructions on how to file a counter-claim,” Google spokeswoman Sara Jew-Lim told Wired.com. “The e-mail will also specifically identify the post or posts in question and will include a link to ChilingEffects.org so the blogger can view the actual complaint we received.”
The accused blogger must file a counter-claim or, after an unquantified number of complaints — valid or otherwise — the law forces Google (or any other blogging platform) to terminate the accounts of “repeat offenders,” even if their only mistake was not to file paperwork against the accusations of an anonymous robot — sad and wrong, but mandated by current law.
“Unfortunately, I never filed the counter-claims,” Pop Tarts Suck Toasted’s Patrick Duffy told Wired.com. “For starters, you’re right, it does seem like a lot of extra work, but mostly I just thought taking down the infringing MP3s would be enough to satisfy the complaint. The thought that these notices were being counted and logged never really crossed my mind, and I doubt I’m the only one that feels that way. It just seems like a terribly vague and archaic system to try and keep MP3s from being posted.”
The problem here is not Google — it’s a combination of overzealous copyright interests who know not what they (or their bots) do, and laws that fail to distinguish between promoting something on a blog and sharing it on a file sharing network.
Until those things change, the answer for now — unsatisfying though it may be — is for music bloggers to check their e-mails for DMCA takedown notices rigorously, and file counter-claims when they’re falsely accused of posting something without permission.
The larger issue at play here, what’s really riling people up, is that music bloggers (not to be confused with those who leak unreleased tracks or post entire albums) create an audience for the music they’re excited about — an extremely valuable service for both fans and those on the copyright side of the equation. Music promotions companies target these bloggers daily if not by the minute, asking them to post their MP3s because it has a promotional effect. That the labels’ representative, IFPI, forces Google to delete blogs like that is, for lack of a better word, dumb.
“I know I am not entirely innocent in this,” wrote Patrick Duffy of Pop Tarts Suck Toasted, who has restarted his blog on . “I have knowingly published MP3s that were not approved for posting, but in doing so, my intentions were always to shine the best possible light on the music I covered giving it the publicity it deserved.
“In this day and age with thousands upon thousands of like-minded individuals doing the same it is a truly blurred line of what is right and wrong… record companies out there that think I’m a villain for what I do, you are 100 percent wrong! The people that create and write and update these sites with fervent passion are your biggest customers.”