Copyright takedown notices are completely Baroque-en



Johann Christian Bach died about 300 years ago. As with any great classical composer, his legacy endures, and today his work is reinterpreted by a new generation of musicians and performers.

James Rhodes is one of them. The accomplished British-born performer posted a clip of him playing a Bach composition to his Facebook page. This was original content derived from a composer who, for context, died 26 years before the US Declaration of Independence was signed, and whose work has long lapsed into the public domain.

Sadly, those facts didn’t prevent Facebook’s content filtering system from accusing Rhodes of copyright infringement, stating 47 seconds of his performance belonged to Sony Music Entertainment.

Then, things went a little bit Terry Gilliam’s Brazil. Rhodes was in the surreal position of having to defend his ownership of an original performance of a song that’s firmly in the public domain.

“This is my own performance of Bach. Who died 300 years ago,” he wrote. “I own all the rights.”

He filed a counter-claim. Sony Music Entertainment rejected it. He complained on Twitter. His post went viral. Admonished and with its tail between its legs, Sony sheepishly backed off and surrendered its claim on his video.

Happy ending? Not quite. This is a problem that’s endemic to the classical music space, according to German professor Ulrich Kaser.

Kaser has researched copyright takedown notices in the classical music space, and in an article posted on the Wikimedia Foundation website, concluded that it’s extremely difficult to share classical music online without encountering the wrath of automated filtering systems.

And it gets worse. Tomorrow, European MEPs will vote on Article 13, a proposal to force all sites that dabble in user generated content to use these content recognition systems. It will apply to consumer-facing products like Instagram, as well as services where people share code, like GitHub.

As Boingboing founder Cory Doctorow points out, the most expensive content ID system around belongs to YouTube. It cost $60 million to build, and as anyone even vaguely familiar with copyright disputes on YouTube knows, is deeply flawed. Legitimate content gets removed all the time, and appealing can feel like a Kafkaesque nightmare.

There’s no way to do automatic content filtering well.  If Article 13 passes, smaller sites will have to scramble to implement something, and it won’t be good.



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