Category Archives: UGC

Yet Another Post On SOPA

[Ed. Note: Cross-posted in part from my tumblr blog. See the additional note at the bottom of this post.]

I generally don’t blog politics. It can be bad for business. However, the SOPA/PIPA legislation, which pitted new tech against old media, requires a response.

Piracy is a serious problem that may or may not need additional attention (we already have the DMCA to protect copyright interests). However, the legislation as drafted is bad law. While hardly scientific, most if not all of the entertainment lawyers I discussed the bills with agree – even the ones who work at the studios.

If these bills became law then it would be legal for the government to shut down sites without due process. In effect, fair use can be ignored and sites are guilty until proven innocent. Litigation can be costly and few would opt to fight in the face of substantial legal fees and an unprofitable victory.

The clip above is a parody using someone else’s copyrighted work. It’s likely that such works – notwithstanding what you think of this particular parody – could survive on the net.

That’s not how our country is supposed to work and that’s certainly not how this law should work. This legislation can be redrafted to stem piracy without sacrificing our core values.

If you haven’t already, I urge you to read the current drafts of SOPA and PIPA and tell me if you still support these bills.

[Ed. Note: Prior to posting here and on Tumblr, a music executive friend of mine and I debated the merits of the bills on Facebook. Much of what I wrote above was part of that debate. After I blogged about it, my friend posted a link on Facebook to a blog post in favor of the legislation. You can find that here. In essence, the post in support argued that those in opposition - even those that took the time to read the bills - were misinterpreting the language and intent of the legislation. However, the fact that the language may be open to misinterpretation or, as many believe, exposes the true intent of the legislation, proves my point. If this legislation is broad enough to be misinterpreted by so many people, including intellectual property/entertainment lawyers, law professors, media executives and politicians, then they certainly can be and will be used for unintended or nefarious purposes if they become law. As I write this, I am sure my friend is formulating a response. I will keep you posted.]

Loose Lips Syncing Shifts

"Wax Lips" courtesy of Red Clover

Back in the 80’s, MTV was cutting edge. To many of us growing up back then, music videos were as much a part of the soundtrack to our lives as the music itself.

Inspired, my high school class produced its own music video; a lip syncing production of Devo’s We’re Through Being Cool which was seen by less than a thousand people at my school’s annual musical revue. [Note to Roslyn High alums, please send me a copy and I will post it here!]. Today, kids produce lip dubs in just a few hours and mass distribute them to millions worldwide through viral video websites like YouTube.

Here’s a lip dub of I Gotta Feeling by The Black Eyed Peas. A couple of kids from the University of Quebec, Montreal (UQAM) shot this video with 172 students in one take and one rehearsal.

Here’s “the making of” video of the UQAM lip dub [Subsequently blocked by UMG. I can't figure why of the two, Universal Music Group chose to block the "making of" footage and not the lip dub itself. Updated: January 21, 2012]:

Here’s the original music video produced by The Black Eyed Peas.
I prefer the UQAM students’ take.

Of course, lip dubbing raises all sorts of legal issues concerning copyright, fair use and commercial exploitation of works owned by others. Apparently, the students didn’t clear the music though I suspect the cost of doing so would have been prohibitive.

So are mass distributed, viral lip dubs bad or good for the music business? The band? Do they cut into or promote market share? Do they dilute the promotional power of the band? [Ed. Note: Don't ask me about this last one. I hear this argument from label reps every time I negotiate with them.]

With over 3 million hits on YouTube and publicity from news outlets and blogs like this one, The Black Eyed Peas could never have garnered that kind of exposure on their own. YouTube’s Audio ID program can link lip dubs and other user generated content on its website to online buyers of the band’s music. That kind of Internet exploitation should be music to the industry’s ears.

[UPDATE: January 18, 2010:] As reported on The Trademark Blog, Capitol Records sued Vimeo in Federal Court on December 10, 2009 for copyright infringement from the site’s exploitation of lip dubs.

Complaint Capitol v Vimeo

According to The Trademark Blog, Capitol needs to persuade the Court not to follow Io Group v. Veoh or UMG v. Veoh. These cases held that file sharing services like Vimeo are not liable for the creative (and arguably infringing) activities of their users.

As I wrote earlier, the music industry needs to have an honest and public discussion about whether such uses actually promote or dilute the value of their works. So far, I haven’t seen any proof one way or the other. In the end, it might not matter. People will continue to find creative and novel ways to exploit existing works despite the risks. It’s incumbent on the music industry to figure out a way to squeeze some profit for themselves out of that.

Grass Roots Licensing Of Youtube Fare

My kids turned me on to “Charlie The Unicorn” shortly after it made its debut on youtube several years ago. Like most user generated content, Charlie, a flash animated 2D short, was made on a shoestring and the production values reflect that. Still, the work is smart, funny and quotable in the vein of Caddyshack and The Simpsons.

Charlie has been viewed over 35 million times worldwide and spawned a sequel.

Still, I wasn’t really intrigued until I visited Hot Topic, a teen-oriented store in my local mall, and spotted Charlie merchandise.

Plenty of talented (and not so talented) folks make shorts and distribute them on youtube. Far fewer generate millions of views or eyeballs; and only a handful of those successfully make the jump to ancillary exploitation.

Whether Charlie’s creator is making meaningful revenues isn’t really the point (nor is the aesthetic value of such a work).

Charlie’s transition from youtube short to retail merchandise represents nothing less than a sea change in the ability of a single content creator to leverage the internet and its potential access to millions to build a following and potentially profit from ancillary and derivative exploitation of content without the need or prohibitive expense of traditional distribution channels.

It means that self-distribution is now a meaningful and sustainable distribution alternative and will become even more so as internet based distribution (e.g., faster downloads) matures.

It means that traditional distributors better figure out how to stay relevant (hint: content marketing not content distribution) or get out of the way.

Just ask the people who (used to) work in the music business.