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Sony Filed Copyright Claim Against Man They Licensed Content From

Sony Filed Copyright Claim Against Man They Licensed Content From

by P. H. MadoreOctober 31, 2015

The arrogance of large corporations is occasionally beyond description. Mitch Martinez created some stock footage and licensed it to Sony Music Entertainment. Then, later, when he uploaded the same footage onto YouTube, he got a copyright notice. About his own content.

The debacle that followed was interesting. Here is the original footage that Martinez posted on YouTube, which Sony tagged as belonging to them and caused the issues:

It wasn’t Sony directly, not exactly. It was Epic Records, which is a division of Sony Music Entertainment. One of their artists, Transviolet, used the footage above as the background for the music video of their song “Bloodstream.”

About two months after Martinez put the footage on YouTube, he received a complaint from the automated Content ID system. This writer can personally attest that companies regularly take advantage of this system, even occasionally tagging public domain music and profanely telling users that they have no right to use it. In this writer’s case, the matter was resolved within a day, as he was able to provide a link to the fact that the music in question belonged to the Commons.

But the truly interesting part of that episode was that the record label was able to tag the content in the first place. Shouldn’t they have to prove that it belongs to them? After all, YouTube wouldn’t have survived the court system if they hadn’t developed the Content ID system. Nevertheless, it would seem that they could get into even more trouble by wrongly allowing music labels and studios to profit from content which did not belong to them.

Martinez wasn’t as lucky as this writer. Martinez says that this wasn’t the first time his own footage had been identified as belonging to someone else. However, in previous instances, the matter was resolved quickly.

It’s happened before – but as noted above, this has always been very quickly resolved with a notification to the person or company I had issued the license agreement.

copyrightMartinez did what he was supposed to do, and informed YouTube that the claim was invalid. He also went outside of YouTube and e-mailed the person he’d licensed the content to after he searched his records and eventually came upon the license he’d given Epic Records. What happened next should be scary to all content creators. The company doubled down on its claim, and YouTube said that if the company continued to make the claim, Martinez’s account could receive a strike.

When he received no response, he justifiably escalated the situation. He filed a copyright claim against the “Bloodstream” video, being that in the terms of the license, he specifically retained copyright. And now the company was hassling him about it. What would anyone do in that situation? This was enough to get the attention of someone at Epic’s legal department.

A day later, I received contact from a person at Epic Records’ legal department. The voicemail acknowledged that there might be some sort of issue but he had no idea about the details. […] On the subsequent calls, the person in Epic legal acknowledged that the footage was, in fact, my footage and thanked me for allowing them to use the footage. That’s a win for my side of things. […] I provided him all of the information again – including the fact that the footage they claimed copyright to was created and uploaded to my YouTube account almost a full two years prior to me issuing a license agreement to Epic/Sony and the upload of their video. The call ended with him saying he was going to review the license agreement I issued and get back to me.

But then, Martinez won. The legal department lackey got back to him and confirmed that the footage belonged to him. The copyright claim was dropped. But Martinez, being wise to the antics of large media companies, asked if they had yet complied with his own copyright claim. They’d decided not to do so, and he insisted. They were reluctant to do so, and so they asked if there was any way to resolve the issue without changing the video. He told them that they would have to put a link to his video in the video, and at this they were slow to respond, saying it wasn’t in their department. But then:

Early the following week, I was credited in the video and my website was linked. This case was finally closed.

The Internet was in many ways intended to empower the average person to have a chance in a world where mostly everything is boiled down to conglomerates like Sony Entertainment. The Web 2.0 routinely sees such companies abusing their gravitas in order to push out the competition. The default position is too often that if you’re not a major company, you’re wrong. Copyright in the 21st century is more confusing than ever, and it will be interesting to see how long it is before a system that benefits all content creators more than it does major corporations is put into place.

Images from Shutterstock.

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