Warner/Chappell Launches Copyright Claim Over YouTube Video Deliberately Featuring None Of Its Music


0001Taking proactive takedowns to soaring new heights, Warner/Chappell recently issued a copyright claim over a doctored Star Wars clip containing precisely none of  J. Williams’ music – the absence of which was in fact the point of the video, says Techdirt’s Tim Cushing.

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Guest post by Tim Cushing of Techdirt

Warner/Chappell’s DMCA takedown arm is so damn proactive it can kill YouTube videos containing as little as 0% of its IP. A clip of Star Wars posted to YouTube sans overbearing John Williams soundtrack was targeted by Warner/Chappell, the owner of the rights to John Williams’ Star Wars compositions.

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Here’s Jeremy Hsu of Wired with more details.

Fans of the YouTube channel Auralnauts, which posted the doctored Star Wars scene in 2014 as a tongue-in-cheek tribute to the emotional power of Williams’ score, loved it for that weirdness. But another set of viewers—those with the rights to the movie’s soundtrack—tuned in to these sounds of silence and heard something else: the ka-ching of a cash register.

That’s what the Auralnauts discovered earlier this summer when they received word that Warner/Chappell—the global music publishing arm of Warner Music Group—had filed a monetization claim on their “Star Wars Minus Williams” video through YouTube’s Content ID System. That’s right: The copyright holder was claiming ownership of something that wasn’t there.

There are several theories to what went wrong here, although Warner engaging in kneejerk copyright claims with zero pre-claim vetting doesn’t appear to be the frontrunner. First, a clip of music sounding a lot like a John Williams piece opens the video. But the piece is written and composed by Gustav Holt — and is “copyright-free” according to Wired. The studio behind Star Wars had no objection to the clip, so it’s not related to the visual content. That leaves Warner, possibly motivated by a faulty trigger in its Content ID auto-scanning. There’s also a four-second loop of Williams’ score appended to the end of the video, which may have pulled the Content ID trigger as well. But even if so, there are still problems with Warner and YouTube’s Content ID system because the wrong piece of music was named in Warner’s copyright claim.

[T]he Warner/Chappell claim incorrectly identified the “Star Wars Main Title” track as being present in the Auralnauts video. The single brief Williams excerpt used by the Auralnauts actually comes from a track titled “The Throne Room and End Title.”

Whatever the case is, the claim was obviously bogus. But it shows how fragile an ecosystem YouTube can be for those using it as a revenue stream. Even when wrong about pretty much everything, Warner was still able to siphon this video’s profits from the Auralnauts. The Auralnauts challenged Warner — which the article points out is something that happens in less than 1% of content claims — but it didn’t matter. In fact, it’s unlikely anyone at Warner even bothered to read the challenge before issuing a rejection.

That leaves the Auralnauts in the difficult position of risking their entire channel to continue disputing Warner’s obviously erroneous copyright claim.

[I]f a copyright claimant such as Warner/Chappell does not back down from its claim, the video is likely to get taken down from YouTube entirely—and in that event, the Auralnauts would also be penalized by the platform as a copyright scofflaw and barred from some privileges, such as linking to their own store. Three such takedowns and YouTube will delete your channel.

Despite the constant complaints about YouTube being some sort of infringement wonderland, the odds are stacked almost completely in favor of legacy industry copyright holders. Nothing happens to Warner if it continues to file bogus claims. But those targeted by claims are expected to just let the bogus claims happen because challenging claims is a great way to damage your own YouTube account.