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Why is YouTube letting music labels claim copyright on Carnatic music?

YoutubeIn a bizarre case, music studios and copyright owners are sending out copyright violation claims against video performances of Carnatic music. YouTube channel Parivadhini has received a notification of copyright violation after uploading a live performance of a composition by famous 19th century composer Thyagaraja, reports The Hindu.

It looks like the channel owners contested the claim stating that the work was in public domain considering they are hundreds of years old. However, the dispute was rejected. The channel has now started an online petition against these copyright claims being made on YouTube. In this specific case, Lahari Music, a label that has the rights for several Telugu, Tamil and Malayalam movies had claimed the rights to the song “O Rangashayi”. It is not clear if the video was taken down or if Lahari was given the right to monetize the video. Also, it is not clear on what grounds YouTube rejected Parivadhini point of view, when it contested the charge of copyright violation.

The reports states that copyright-violation notices have been issued to several other video channels on YouTube for uploading renditions of Thyagaraja’s work. Lalitha Ram, co-founder of Parivadhini told the publication that the recording houses are using a flaw in the YouTube system which has been largely developed for modern, western music industry. It is does not take into consideration any traditional art form. This would be a disadvantage to content channels since YouTube blocks any channel that has had three copyright violations.

How Youtube tracks copyright violations: YouTube has its own mechanism to regulate copyright violations called Content ID. When a video is uploaded, this system scans video for any copyright violation and notifies the content owner uploading the content. Usually, anybody claiming the copyright on YouTube is required to have a valid ownership of the copyrights to any particular piece of content. Music labels use Content ID as it reduces the time taken and hence cost involved in claiming videos.

Content ID scans videos uploaded against a database of files that content owners submit to YouTube. In case the content matches their copyright, content owners can claim it as their own. Upon claiming the content as their own, copyright owners can:
–          Mute audio that matches their music
–          Block a whole video from being viewed
–          Monetize the video by running ads against it
–          Track the video’s viewership statistics

Any of these actions can be country-specific, and a content owner can choose to monetize a video in one country, and block it in another. Only content owners with exclusive rights to a substantial amount of original content frequently uploaded to YouTube can use Content ID.

What is copyrightable?: If a version of Thyagaraja’s composition was used in a movie and the same version (probably ripped from a CD or bought from iTunes) is used in another video, then a studio or copyright holder can claim copyright. However, that wasn’t the case here and YouTube seems to be a little lost on that front. To put things in perspective, Thyagaraja lived around the same time as Beethoven did. Imagine a live performance of a sonata by Beethoven being taken down on copyright grounds, preposterous right? That’s exactly what has happened here.

YouTube needs to revisit Content ID policies for classical music. These claims should not be encouraged unless the a track that was published by the music label was used in another video.

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