Home » Copyright/Intellectual Property » When Music You Wrote Becomes a Hate Speech Soundtrack

When Music You Wrote Becomes a Hate Speech Soundtrack

15 November 2017

From Wired:

The video “‘70 youths of African appearance’ rampage through Fair etc etc etc” opens with a graphic of a bearded man in sunglasses with a cigar hanging out of his mouth. A name flashes on screen: Colin Flaherty. Flaherty is a prolific YouTuber and writer who chronicles violence by African Americans, which, he claims, is a much greater social problem than violence against African Americans. Quick cut to live footage of Flaherty himself, similarly sunglassed, bearded, and lighting a cigar as he narrates the 13-minute video—a mash-up of news clips and cell phone footage, each of which he represents as evidence of “a large-scale episode of black mob violence.”

You might or might not have noticed the snippet of music playing behind the intro—set to a tune that sounds like the theme song for a villainous cartoon clown. The same track appears before many of Flaherty’s videos, including “Greatest Hits: Madison goes after the worst of the worst — THEY ARE ALL BLACK” and “GREATEST HITS – Proctor & Gamble talks about black lives matter. Fantasy vs Reality edition.” While uncredited in the videos, which have a total of more than 32,000 views, Flaherty told me that the musical track was “Comic Intro” and said that he had purchased it from AudioJungle, one of the largest of the dozens of royalty-free music marketplaces online.

As online video has boomed, so has the demand for inexpensive background music. The royalty-free stock music industry has grown to meet that demand and has tailored itself to serve a clientele of video producers and other media makers who need content that’s cheap, reusable, and free of legal strings. Through these platforms, a professional quality track costs as little as a fancy cup of coffee.

Today, millions of cheap tracks can be purchased from massive marketplaces that serve as the middleman between buyers and artists. It’s a quick way for a talented musician to make a small buck. But there’s a hidden cost: You lose control over where your work ends up. In hundreds, if not thousands, of cases, a tune becomes the backing track to hate speech or violent videos. Often such use violates the license the buyer agrees to when purchasing the track. But nobody reads the licenses—and, more importantly, no one enforces them.

. . . .

Even when musicians sell royalty-free tracks directly, rather than through a larger marketplace, they rarely know where their music ends up—especially if they aren’t credited. According to Eric Schwartz, Content Insights Manager at Envato, which operates Audiojungle and other content marketplaces, purchasers are encouraged to credit musicians whenever possible. But, as with many royalty-free licenses, credit isn’t required. That makes it tough for artists to track use of their creations. While image search is fairly advanced today, you can’t Google a melody. If the composer’s name isn’t in the credits, the best chance many have of finding their work is by stumbling on it during a YouTube binge.

. . . .

You might think Flaherty’s “Comic Intro” video—with its violent scenes taken out of context and its racist message—would trigger AudioJungle’s license prohibition. AudioJungle doesn’t seem to see it that way. The company wouldn’t comment specifically on Flaherty’s case, but it does not require customers to report how they use purchased content. Its focus, according to a statement sent by Schwartz “is on making it easy for customers to find and buy what they are looking for.” If Audiojungle learns of a breach of any part of the license, Schwartz says it could trigger “the termination of a user’s account.” But pursuing such an outcome (and any associated legal costs) fall on the author/artist’s shoulders.


Link to the rest at Wired and thanks to Joshua for the tip.

After many years of operating in the world of contracts involving individuals and organizations, PG has observed that who you deal with is the single most important predictor of a successful relationship.

You can have the finest contract ever created, but if you’re dealing with crooks on the other side of the contract, you are unlikely to have a satisfactory experience.

Online business relationships make the assessment of honesty even more difficult. As the caption of a famous cartoon in the New Yorker (first published almost 25 years ago) explains, “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog”.

In the distant past, a known reputation on the part of the counterparty to an agreement was regarded as the most important element of the deal. A prudent person could make an agreement with Honest Jane on a handshake and feel comfortable that the agreement would work out as expected.

If Honest Jane did not keep her part of the bargain, her business reputation would be ruined and such reputational damage would impair her ability to make any agreements with other potential partners in the business community.

As commerce became more complex and geographically dispersed, in the US, standard business laws were passed in all states (Louisiana was an exception until 1990) – The Uniform Commercial Code.

While not 100% uniform, the UCC was designed to permit parties in different parts of the United States to engage in commercial agreements knowing that common legal provisions would be incorporated in their agreements, (usually) unless the agreements specifically excluded some or all of such terms. Short and simple agreements were possible because the UCC handled all the boilerplate.

Reputations were not as easily ascertained as in earlier times, but, within a given industry, it was often possible to learn about a reputation from other businesses and individuals operating in the industry. Someone who wasn’t known in the industry could, at a minimum, expect to pay higher prices or pay prior to shipment of goods until a business reputation was developed.

Of course, the internet created a world-wide commercial market. You can buy many products and services from a vendor in China as easily as you can from a vendor in Ohio.

However, in PG’s opinion, the risk to the reputation of either party is of far less consequence in such a huge market. If Beijing Biscuits delivers poor-quality goods to a US consumer, how likely is Beijing Biscuits’ world-wide reputation likely to take a meaningful hit? If there is perceived reputational damage, many US consumers will learn that Birmingham Biscuits is, in fact, the same organization with a different trade name?

The lesson for writers of music or writers of books is an old one: 1. Know the reputation of the organization you’re thinking about doing business with (and thoroughly investigate if you don’t know the reputation) and 2. Read the online agreement you’re asked to agree to before clicking on it. Particularly see what the agreement says about how you can terminate the agreement and what happens to your intellectual property if you do terminate.

PG has almost certainly reviewed more online click contracts than you have and he knows they’re no fun to read. If you want to know what you’re getting into, however, you will need to read them. Printing the contract may help with your reading.

PG also suggests that you keep copies of the contract somewhere on your computer for future reference and, perhaps even more important, comparison with future revised versions of the contract you are asked to click to accept.

Copyright/Intellectual Property

11 Comments to “When Music You Wrote Becomes a Hate Speech Soundtrack”

  1. Uhm documenting violence in a public space, regardless of how it is framed or who it represents, isn’t hate speech. Now, I don’t know what the guy says else wise about people of color, but saying black-on-black violence is a bigger epidemic than white-on-black violence isn’t hate speech, it is a matter of public record. Now, if the musician disagrees with the guy that is fine. But when did disagree with someone mean they were saying hate speech?

    • This began when we elected a community organizer as President, twice. That is what brought this kind of tactic, common in the inner cities nationwide, into the mainstream.
      Statistics are racist.

  2. Hate speech is still free speech.

    • Not that I’m claiming what is described in the OP constitutes hate speech, but laws governing free speech in the US most definitely provide a more limited set of freedoms regarding hate speech.

  3. Lol PG.

    Opening lots of cans of worms today I see. 🙂

  4. In most violent crimes, both the victim and the perpetrator are The same ethnicity.

    • Partly an effect of the fact that a hefty percentage of violent crimes are domestic.

      Not reported by the MSM, of course, but the FBI stats claim that Blacks commit “hate crimes” at twice the rate of their demographic representation. (Take those with a grain of salt, though – the FBI seems to classify any crime with different races involved as a “hate” crime – a large number of those, I think, are simply crime; the perpetrator cares mostly about how much they think they’ll get out of their victim, whatever color they happen to be.)

  5. Since 2005, I have sold many hundreds of thousands of licenses to the images which I create for the microstock agencies. I have made enough money at it that I think I qualify as a professional.

    If you think that the agencies which license music and images are going to check on all usages to make sure that your delicate S** ‘feelz’ are not offended, you don’t understand the business.

  6. Often such use violates the license the buyer agrees to when purchasing the track.

    So you could be (say) a devout believer in Religion XYZ and prohibit music from being used by anyone who professed being an atheist? Just curious/confused how broadly this licensing is written.

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