by Communications Intern Griffin Davis and Communications Associate Kevin Erickson
Last week, the video-hosting site Vimeo announced that it would be implementing a copyright identification system called Copyright Match, which is meant to prevent unauthorized copies of works from being uploaded and viewed on Vimeo. Though its benefits to artists may have been a consideration, it’s a safe bet that Copyright Match is also intended to protect Vimeo from lawsuits like the one they are currently involved in with the major labels, while avoiding the headache of processing DMCA takedown notices, which is a frustration for copyright owners as well as service providers.
According to the announcement, when a Vimeo user uploads a video, Vimeo will make a digital fingerprint of a portion of the audio. This fingerprint will then be sent to content identification service Audible Magic to see if it matches any of the roughly 7 million songs in their database. If a match is found, the user will be notified and will have the option to appeal on the grounds that their use of the work licensed, that it meets the criteria of fair use or that Vimeo simply made a mistake. If, after the appeal process, the video is still found to be infringing, the user will have the option to replace the video, delete it altogether or search for replacement audio in the Vimeo Music Store.
The concept behind Vimeo’s copyright match system is similar to YouTube’s proprietary Content ID system, although its current implementation doesn’t allow for the monetization tools that Content ID provides to give artists the option of letting their work stay up in exchange for a cut of ad revenue and providing “buy” links directing users to various download stores. While partnerships are in the works to allow for video makers to soundtrack their work on Vimeo while compensating composers/publishers through Rumblefish, for now, the emphasis is on keeping unauthorized uploads off the platform rather than turning Vimeo into a monetized online jukebox.
While it’s good to see a both Vimeo and YouTube giving artists and rightsholders choices about how and when their work is used, there is room for improvement.. Since Content ID was introduced, independent artists and smaller labels have expressed frustration that the process for getting your work included in the database for matching was somewhat opaque. Content ID started off tracking content from big labels, though over time it has grown to include more indies and aggregators through behind-the-scenes negotiations. YouTube has quietly implemented a signup form that allows anyone to apply, but according to YouTube’s support site, not everyone will be approved:
YouTube only grants Content ID to copyright owners who meet specific criteria. To be approved, they must own exclusive rights to a substantial body of original material that is frequently uploaded by the YouTube user community.
YouTube doesn’t define what counts as “substantial body of work” or “frequent” uploading. If you want to make money from third-party uploads, you can contract with a third-party tool like Audiam to take advantage of Youtube’s monetization tools—but if you’re one of the subset of artists that care more about exercising control than generating micropennies, you’re stuck manually policing the service.
Similarly, Audible Magic—the company that operates the “fingerprinting” database used by Vimeo—has agreements with all three major labels, larger indies and a number of distributors like Merlin & IODA, as well as aggregator services like Tunecore. If your label, aggregator, or distributor has one of these agreements, the service is free, and your music may already be registered. But for independent artists and smaller labels not working with a distributor or aggregator, asserting control of your work is not so simple. Audible Magic has created a portal called MyRightsView, which allows them to upload their work to Audible Magic’s database for the creation of fingerprint files. Users receive five free uploads after registration, with additional uploads available for a fee. While the pricing is far from extreme, MyRightsView makes no mention of the existence of a fee or the amount of the fee until the user has gone through the “free” registration process. Alternatively, advanced users can generate fingerprints themselves for inclusion in the database; Audible Magic’s software is available upon request, but this software only work with Microsoft and Linux operating systems; Mac OS users and those without the technical chops to create XML datasets are out of luck.
From a business perspective, it’s easy to understand why the little guys aren’t the first priority in copyright fingerprinting technology. Superstar artists and giant corporate labels generate the most ad revenue, and present the biggest potential liability for unsanctioned uses. That being said, for us the ultimate test of a system’s value is whether it works just as well for a self-released artist or small indie as it does for Lady Gaga or Universal.
Copyright Match represents an important step for content owners on Vimeo, and it is nice to see that independent musicians haven’t been entirely forgotten in the process. But it’s a little disheartening to see another instance where barriers exist that can prevent independent creators from having the same tools as bigger entities. As audio fingerprinting technology could ultimately be extended to other kinds of uses, such as tracking plays on radio and apportioning revenues, it’s going to be extremely important that inclusion in such databases be accessible to all players, regardless of their size and regardless of what labels, aggregators, distributors, or third-party companies they choose to work with.