September 14, 2007 2:26 PM PDT

YouTube conundrum for vintage acts

YouTube conundrum for vintage acts
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Journalist at center of YouTube case

May 8, 2007
The music industry typically sings YouTube's praises.

Google's video-sharing site has signed strategic partnerships with all four of the major record labels and has emerged as a launching pad for up-and-coming artists, making it this generation's answer to American Bandstand.

Then why are pop icon Prince and 1970s disco group the Village People preparing to file lawsuits against the company?

Prince and Can't Stop Productions, the company that owns the rights to the Village People's music, have hired the same British firm, Web Sheriff, to file lawsuits on their behalf. In addition to YouTube, Prince is preparing legal action against eBay and The Pirate Bay. He is apparently angry that his copyright is being violated. The Village People are fuming over hundreds of videos posted to YouTube that combine their music with historical footage of Adolph Hitler and other Nazis.

The question that the controversy raises is whether YouTube provides any benefit to legacy artists like Prince and the Village People. Acts that have been around for a while may not need YouTube's help to promote their records. Meanwhile, they might see their songs being used without their permission or in ways that they find offensive and start thinking of YouTube as a threat.

"If there is any promotional benefit to bands like the Village People from mashups its only negligible," said Jay Rosenthal, co-legal counsel to the Recording Artists' Coalition, a group that advocates for the rights of music artists. "The fans of this group are unlikely to go online often. But what could hurt the artist is when someone sees this video and thinks that the Village People have somehow endorsed Hitler or the Nazis. To some people I think it may not be clear that they haven't."

Rosenthal also predicts the problem will get worse as more people combine professionally crafted music with home videos.

"Artists are going to look for a way to file suit for disparagement," Rosenthal predicted. "It's going to get worse as artists begin to see their music manipulated in ways they don't want to be associated with."

The record companies have shown that they see YouTube as a powerful way to boost interest in their music. The second most-viewed clip of all time on YouTube is "Girlfriend," a music video from singer Avril Lavigne that's been seen more than 53 million times. No. 3 on the all-time list is another rock video, "Famous Last Words" by the band My Chemical Romance, with 37 million views.

Mashups are also hugely popular on YouTube. They typically feature a person lip syncing to a popular song. Other YouTube video creators shoot videos with snippets of songs played in the background. EMI, Sony BMG, Universal Music Group and Warner Music Group have all signed licensing deals with YouTube, acquired by Google last October for $1.65 billion, that allows users on the site to either access video, music or both.

And while Prince and the Village People are slamming YouTube, the company announced just this week that rap artists 50 Cent, Common and Polow da Don are helping YouTube judge a rap competition that YouTube is sponsoring.

"We have great partnerships with major music labels all over world that understand the benefit of using YouTube as another way to communicate with their fans," said Zahavah Levine, YouTube's chief counsel in a e-mail on Thursday.

It's about control
But what the Village People want to say to their fans is that they don't support Nazis. They also argue that YouTube is allowing people to suggest that they do.

A review of YouTube turned up several clips featuring archival footage of Hitler combined with the Village People songs, such as "Macho Man" and "Go West." It's obvious that the videos' makers are trying to be funny. The clips are edited in a way to make Hitler appear as if he's dancing and singing the songs.

But the Village People aren't laughing, said John Giacobbi, Web Sheriff's president, in an interview on Friday. He said that one has to consider that the two men who wrote the Village People's 1978 hit song "YMCA" are both Jewish.

To the group, it's about control and the right to decide how the material is used, Giacobbi said.

In addition, some top artists include in their contracts that their music can't be used in commercials or specify ideas or products with which they don't wish to associate, according to Brian Caplan, an attorney who represents artists such as Cheap Trick and The Allman Brothers Band.

"Depending on the bargaining leverage of the act, they can put clauses in there that restrict what their music gets used for," Caplan said. "A multi-platinum artist can say 'You can't license the use of my recordings for commercials.'"

Prince and the Village People claim that they have chosen a legal route only after failing to stop the illegal use of material with take-down notices. Giacobbi said that Web Sheriff has sent hundreds of notices to YouTube asking for the removal of clips that violate the rights of the artists. But within days, dozens of new copies reappear. He said that it's obvious that the company filters porn and prevents that from going up. He thinks the company should do that for copyright content as well.

YouTube has said it is close to launching a filtering system that would help prevent copyright content from appearing on the site.

See more CNET content tagged:
YouTube, Nazi, artist, mashup, song


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The next American Idol
Soon You Tube will replace American Idol as the platform for
upcoming talent & we won't have to listen to that "pain in the @$$
Brit," Simon Cowell...
Posted by Bryce Mirtle (29 comments )
Reply Link Flag
your idol?
Shoud be your idol?
I doubt.
Anyway some usefull and nice lyrics:
<a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>
<a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>
Anything else even if it's in Turkey, <a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>
Here's a countdown of the most essential tunes from the extraordinarily varied '80s catalogue of the true American original who at that time went.
Posted by sarki32 (4 comments )
Reply Link Flag
What planet are these guys on?
They're called PROMOTIONAL videos. As in, they help promote you as an artist. Why in the world would you not want them out there, everywhere they can be? It's like suing YouTube because they posted an advertisement for you. It is exactly the same thing.

Whether or not these are "established" artists is pretty immaterial. Does Coke not need to advertise anymore just because it's been around for a while?

If these guys want to pursue getting all of their videos taken off YouTube, then I guess they're free to do so... just as their fans are free to move on to the next great artist they find on YouTube.
Posted by badasscat (735 comments )
Reply Link Flag
We are talking...
Hitler you *******. Hilter. How would you like it if people started saying your mother or father was Hitlers dogs love slave. It doesn't matter if it is true or not, it is offensive and the Village People and their fans have a right not to be offended.

As for Prince it is his property. Maybe he doesn't want a bunch of freaky snot nosed kids as fans.

It doesn't matter the reason, copyrights were violated.
Posted by Heebee Jeebies (632 comments )
Link Flag
not promotional, but parody.
These videos are NOT promotional videos. They are however parodies. My understanding is that clips can be used for parody WITHOUT permission. (I could be wrong)
Either way, these are not promotional for The Village People. They could be considered promotional for the person doing the mash-up, but they would need permission to use someone else's material in their promotion.

I think the key here is profit. This is not a legal view, but a realistic one. If kids are using publicly available material in a non-profit way for parody etc, I think it's pretty ridiculous for rich artists and companies to get all uptight about it. Where is the harm? NOBODY in their right mind views this and thinks The Village People are Hitler supporters. EVERYBODY, even those fan they claim don't go online often would recognize this as comedy.
so, it would seem this is all about control... the industry is very very pissed that they have lost control and common people now have the ability to manipulate and post content available out in the public arena.
I have no sympathy for them.
Posted by skeptik (590 comments )
Link Flag
Golden Rule a vintage act?
The argument seems to be that because some elect to allow this
company to use their material, anyone who refuses to must be a
poor sport or a fool. To paraphrase your president, the creator is
the decider, not you or utube or anyone else. Or shall someone else
start deciding what's best for you?
Posted by orthotox (67 comments )
Reply Link Flag
nice try but
Extending your argument leads us to the conclusion that unless you have obtained permission from the artist to use their material, singing the lyrics to your favorite song while listening to the radio in anyplace where some other person might hear you is a violation of copyright and unfair.
I think this is an untenable position and the sign of a control freak. I also suspect this was NOT the intention of the copyright concept.
Posted by skeptik (590 comments )
Link Flag

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