Evolved copyright policy may be a looming threat to artists on the popular streaming platform

SoundCloud, a music distribution platform, has been instrumental in shaping the careers of many artists, but its partnership with major labels is causing the popular platform to abruptly terminate the accounts of some of those in violation of their updated copyright infringement policy.

Since its inception, SoundCloud has been used tool for musicians to disseminate music to the public and help them reach a wider audience.

The platform allows artists to upload music, mixes and other recorded material online while letting listeners repost and share content on other websites.

But just last year, SoundCloud was slapped with lawsuit filed by record labels Universal, Sony and Warner involving copyright infringement.

To prevent any legal action from happening, SoundCloud agreed to join forces with the labels.

The move caused the platform to adopt a more aggressive approach in monitoring the policy-violating content, allowing the labels to issue strikes.

Content often in violation are known as bootlegs: tracks made without the permission of the artist.

Remixes removed

Kelowna-based Tyler Martens, a DJ known as Stickybuds, said his first serious warning under the new system required him to take off 30 bootlegs from his account.

“Now I only have original content or official remixes I’ve done,” said Martens.

The change requires artists to take down any material that infringes the policy and if an artist gets three strikes, their profile is immediately flagged down.

The partnership allows each label to take up to a three to five per cent stake in SoundCloud and collect royalties whenever the material gets played.

Evidence of its impact is peppered throughout the site. Evan Chandler, an Australian DJ, is one of the many DJs who was notified he had breached the policy.

The music in his set, We Love Ibiza 2014, has been replaced with a statement Chandler issued about violating on the policy.

“It’s disheartening to go on and see other artists with followings and lots of plays on bootleg remixes when that’s what got me shut down. They’re still obviously operating fine.” – DJ Jason “JPOD” Podsta

“Hey guys, it’s Slynk. Unfortunately due to SoundCloud’s new copyright policy, I can’t stream certain material anymore. But you can still listen,” said Chandler in the statement.

Martens believes the policy is lax and often allows bigger names get away with any slip-ups. He adds that special treatment is presumably granted to them on the basis of their connections and status.

According to Martens, if a bootleg was posted without his knowledge or permission, he would seek action for it to be removed. However he said if proper credentials are attributed, he sees no problem.

“The amount of people who are pissed off are a very small minority,” said Martens. “The average consumers don’t care and just want to listen to fresh music, which if you are making original content, it’s not going to be a problem for you on SoundCloud.”

This past June, Jason Podsta, also known as JPOD, was one of those DJs who had his account pulled from SoundCloud due to infringement of the act.

Policy proves deadly for subscriber count

For Podsta, cutting ties with the streaming site meant losing his efforts to cultivate mass support of 40,000 followers. His website also heavily relied on SoundCloud to stream his music.

Before being penalized, Podsta said he received three strikes in violation of the policy for content which had been already been posted for over a month to two years.

“What I was doing and what I generally do, is I make brand new remixes out of songs that are completely original, I thought I would be insulated,” said Podsta. “It’s disheartening to go on and see other artists with followings and lots of plays on bootleg remixes when that’s what got me shut down. They’re still obviously operating fine.”

Getting axed from the website incited him to rethink his tactic and business model. Podsta chose YouTube to host his content, uploading nearly his entire catalogue of music.

The switch from SoundCloud to YouTube rendered Podsta with 1,017 subscriptions and gathering him with a total of 75,137 views, a far stretch from the success he had on SoundCloud.

Updates in SoundCloud’s copyright policy has some artists losing content and subscribers as a result of the violations. Photo courtesy of Pixabay via Creative Commons

According to an article written by Stuart Dredge in The Guardian this November, SoundCloud is attracting more than 170 million listeners and is taking prominence in the digital era. In light of this, recovering Podsta’s fan base could be near impossible.

SoundCloud’s functionality is unique and allows fans to comment on specific parts of a track. Its appeal stems from finding music you wouldn’t be able to find elsewhere. Comments made by users are generally positive, unlike the nasty hate often seen clouding YouTube.

Podsta said he hasn’t regained half of what he had accumulated on SoundCloud partly because YouTube’s service is intended to showcase videos, rather than finding new sounds.

Alternative showcasing platforms

With a heavy heart, Podsta has managed to hold on to hope. Refusing to play the victim card, Podsta partnered up with another DJ, Timothy Wisdom, to create a copyright-proof digital music distribution platform.

The initial version of the project, set to make its debut in a matter of weeks, will comply with the policy by shifting the Otis of responsibility. Users will be able to host the data themselves, instead of uploading it onto the server.

“You can have the song on your Dropbox or on a website … some place that you control, and then just insert it into the system,” said Podsta. “We won’t host the data, we’ll just play it – wherever it sits.”

Podsta has very much embraced remix culture and supports recreations of his work. However, clarifies it would only be problematic if the song ended up sounding the same.

“That’s why copyright exists and why there should be some rules because some people will take another person’s song and call it their own,” said Podsta.

However, reflecting on the policy, Podsta thinks it doesn’t reflect the current landscape of how art works.

“[SoundCloud] needs to be smart and find new ways to embrace where art is moving, instead of against it. It’s only going to continue … we’re talking about a few major labels trying to fight against the rest of the world and the artists in it. It’s just not going to work, it’s old thinking,” said Podsta.

When asked about the controversial transition, a spokesperson for SoundCloud, who typically requests to opt out from being attributed in publications, said they have embarked on that path to further solidify the policy, and expand the opportunities for DJs and producers remixing content.

“No one has done this before. Some services have tried to use existing licensing models to clear some rights in some countries, but no one has solved this problem globally at scale,” said the spokesperson. “It’s a huge task that requires collaboration and buy-in from many different groups and rightsholders, and in time, we believe we can make it happen.”

Thumbnail photo courtesy of Catalina Briceno

cbriceno@cjournal.ca

The editor responsible for this article is Skye Anderson  sanderson@cjournal.ca