Is Facebook ripping off artists? Music may be fair game for content farming, and for some artists it’s fortuitously so – given the pay-off for brand partnerships and synch deals. But what if an artist is literally paid nothing for a song that has gone viral?
That is what happened to Sydney electro duo Bag Raiders when their 2008 single ‘Shooting Stars’ started appearing in video montages of people falling through the air, seven years after its release.
According to Know Your Meme, its first use can actually be traced back to December 29, 2015 when YouTuber ‘Glaceygirl’ created this 14-second clip:
Glaceygirl’s clip has only had 76,620 YouTube views but its hundreds of successors have eclipsed its engagement ten times over. On YouTube, the parody tribute to Harambe has over 235K views and the ‘Fat man does amazing dive’ clip has been viewed 1.7 million times. And Lady Gaga’s Super Bowl Halftime show on February 5 helped pick up the meme’s pace. In defence of meme-makers, she did jump/dance off the top of the NRG Stadium.
The Facebook account ‘Shooting Stars meme’, which posted the above clip, has almost 350K likes and some of the meme clips it has published have millions of views. Herein lies the problem.
According to a report by Trichordist in January, YouTube pays 0.00069 to rights holders per stream. This is actually shocking considering Apple pays 0.00735 per stream and Spotify pays 0.00437 (according to Trichordist) – but at least it’s something.
Unfortunately, Facebook hasn’t joined the ranks of services that believe artists should be paid for their work – yet. Despite Mark Zuckerberg stating Facebook will be mostly video content in around three years’ time, Facebook currently does not pay rights holders for music played on the platform.
Facebook, which has a reach of over 1.9 billion people, isn’t licensed to host music but seeks to do so by hiding behind the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act). The DMCA law allows Facebook to stream any content that users upload until a copyright owner requests it to be taken down. It’s a task that is gargantuan and simply impossible for rights owners to undertake.
Digital copyright infringement is nothing new for artists; their works have been mined for bite-sized background noise for years, and in some ways, we should embrace it.
‘Shooting Stars’ didn’t actually enter the ARIA charts until four years after its re-release back in 2009, debuting at #44 in 2013 and peaking at #38. However, Bag Raiders have seen an increase in followers, streams, and chart success, turning ‘exposure’ into actual currency.
Granted, some artists are choosing to push their music videos out on Facebook – and are well aware they won’t receive any money – but in the case of the Bag Raiders and viral memes, it’s not their choice.
The duo would have received small royalties from digital platforms like YouTube. YouTube monetizes music on videos which don’t have a license to use that work; it uses its Content ID system to pay rights holders a share of any ad revenue generated.
Let’s say for argument’s sake, Facebook paid 0.00069 cents per stream – the same as YouTube. Exclusively looking at the videos posted to the dedicated ‘Shooting Stars meme’ Facebook account, the track has been streamed over 60.61 million times for its use in 107 videos. This means, if those 107 clips were monetized in the same way many of YouTube’s are, the rights holders tied to ‘Shooting Stars’ would be over $41,800 richer.
Of all digital music streaming services, YouTube pays the least amount of revenue to rights holders, so let’s now say Facebook paid 0.00437 cents per stream – the same as Spotify. If Facebook had monetised the ‘Shooting Stars’ memes, it would have paid rights holders over $264,800. By comparison, Facebook announced a profit of USD$10.2b for calendar 2016, up 177% year on year.
Richard Mallet, Head of Revenue APRA AMCOS, told The Industry Observer Facebook remains a rogue operator in Australia “as it continues to deny songwriters their fair due from the use of songs on its platform”.
“Rather than doing the right thing and putting in place appropriate music licence arrangements, Facebook’s only response to concerns raised by rights owners is to offer to take down infringing music and videos in response to individual notices, a 20-year-old process which is no longer fit for purpose in 2017,” he said.
In a statement emailed to The Industry Observer, Facebook said it “takes intellectual property rights seriously”.
“We can’t comment on particular cases, but we have robust measures in place to help protect intellectual property rights,” read the statement. “Among other things, we’ve implemented a global notice-and-takedown program that removes content in response to reports from rights holders.
“That program is dependent on rights holders submitting reports to us if they believe their rights are being infringed. We’ve also launched Rights Manager, which similarly allows these rights holders to track and report any infringements of their rights.”
Facebook also told The Industry Observer it subscribes to copyright compliance service Audible Magic. The 18-year-old service allows content owners, including TV and movie studios, record labels and independent publishers, to fingerprint their media files for copyright management.
As it currently stands however, by the time artists know their works have been infringed and request a takedown, Facebook will likely have already benefited from the content, whether directly or indirectly, without paying a cent for it.
APRA AMCOS’ Richard Mallet also made the point of noting a recommendation by Australia’s Productivity Commission which proposed the expansion of the ‘safe harbours’ exception for copyright infringement.
“Even more concerning is the fact that the Productivity Commission has recently recommended that this sort of anti-artist behaviour be legitimised in Australia by expanding the ‘safe harbour’ scheme in the Copyright Act to protect the likes of YouTube and Facebook, who already profit massively from trading in infringing content,” he said.
“Such a change would only serve to further the interests of the big global tech firms over Australian songwriters and musicians,” Mallet added.
The Industry Observer reached out to Bag Raiders for comment and will update this story if and when we receive one.
There is a light at the end of this space-themed tunnel. According to this job advert, Facebook is seeking a Legal Director of Music Licensing, who will be based at its HQ in Menlo Park, California.
They’ll need to make that hire soon as Facebook is ramping up its interest in music video content. It knows that if it wants to compete with video streaming giant YouTube, then it has to play by similar rules.
According to Bloomberg, Facebook is currently involved in licensing discussions with music publishers and other rights holders and has reportedly offered to pay record labels more than YouTube does.
However, whispers of these discussions first popped up in 2015 and rights holders’ concerns are being heard. Late last year, publishers began issuing takedown notices to Facebook for cover videos of their songs. But where does that leave memes?