In July of 2005 I started my first podcast. I’d already been doing Church tech for a few years by that time, so when I went to look for theme music I wanted to honor the artists by following copyright law.
I searched for what was called “podsafe music,” music that wasn’t published by the major labels, so permission could be granted by the original artists. After a couple of hours, I came across a band that was really good. They were a Christian group, so even their lyrics worked for me.
The terms of the site said that all I had to do was provide attribution, but I wanted to do everything above board. I emailed them directly to make sure that what I had in mind was okay.
Within a day, I was talking to one of the members. He gave me permission in the email to use one of their songs. I kept that email, just in case I needed it.
A year later I was excited to hear that they’d been signed. I even congratulated them on my show!
Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago. Nearly nine years after I started using this song and eight years after they were signed, YouTube flagged the video version of my show for a copyright violation. These are done automatically, so I expected that when I let them know that I had written permission that predates the record contract, all would be well.
Within an hour or two of my counter-notice that my use of the song was, in fact, used with written permission that predated the agreement between the band and the record company, I received a reply. They still felt that my use of the song was a violation.
So, do I have recourse? Yep.
I could either appeal (and get a strike against my YouTube account that I’ve worked so hard to build, should I lose) or sue the company who put up the claim (paying a lawyer money I don’t have).
I don’t blame YouTube. They’ve been sued so much that they have to err on the side of caution.
I don’t blame the band. Signing with the record label was within their best interest.
I blame the company that complained about my use of the song. They could have listened to the fact that I have permission OR asked for more clarification, but they didn’t.
What to Do
So, what am I going to do? I have to change to other music after 9 years. I hate to do it, but I can’t fight.
So, how could this affect your church?
I wrote a few months ago about the problems with using YouTube for streaming. What I didn’t think about were the copyright implications.
There’s no where to indicate that you have a license or permission (which should be vetted by appropriate legal council, of course) to use what you use.
There’s also no customer service line or email address where you can explain to a human.
As a result, I’ve talked to churches who get weekly dings for using songs or media that they have permission to use. Most of the time, their responses are heard, but they might not be. There is no authority making sure that copyright notices are correct and more importantly, that people with permission can continue to do what they are legally entitled to do.
Sure, there’s the EFF (Electronic Frontiers Foundation) or ChillingEffects.org, but these are small entities who are fighting with limited budgets. The government seems unwilling or unable to hear small groups or organizations when they point out very real abuses.
So, be careful. Make sure you’re covered, but know that it might not be enough.
Not Just YouTube
I’ve singled out YouTube, not because they’re bad at this, but because they’re the biggest target for this type of action and because they don’t really have a great way to deal with exceptions to the norm — people who actually have permission.
Vimeo, DailyMotion, and others might be next, so merely shifting video hosts might not be enough.
I’m not advocating hiding your misuse of copyrighted works. I’m saying that copyright-holding companies are powerful and they seem to be assumed to be correct, ignoring the little guy.
Be careful. I don’t want your church to have to stream or upload only the sermon or go to all public domain music (not all hymns, even ones written at the beginning of the last century, are), but I’ve heard of at least a couple of churches that are doing just that.
Know Two Things
You should know two other things. The copyright agent didn’t quit with one episode. They’ve now flagged several of my shows that include that song.
I did get some good news. After rewording my objection, providing dates of my written permission, I appealed another video. They finally backed down.
This is only a partial victory because all other videos that they claimed rights to are still under that claim except one. The video I originally had trouble with is still listed as in violation. So, I need to dispute each time they say I’ve used the music without permission and hope they back down.
There are no winners here. It’s still taking time away from what I feel called to do and there’s still no way to flag my account so that it escapes scrutiny for this one song. So far, I’m 1 for 2 in this battle. I hope your church doesn’t face similar problems.