YouTube, TuneCore and the Copyright Conundrum [Updated]

YouTube has some serious copyright concerns, and they’re ones that affect all kinds of creators. Yesterday, they chomped down on me. Or at least they tried to. Updated: With frankly hilarious response from Tunecore.
So here’s a thing. Yesterday, I was mostly minding my own business (such as it is), putting together a quick cut video of one of Hasbro’s fun new Star Wars Command lines. You can view that video here — and for reasons that’ll shortly become clear, I’d rather you did view it here on Fat Duck Tech rather than on YouTube.
The video was shot at a public event, which meant that it was very noisy. Actually, because it was a showcase for a lot of Hasbro’s Christmas toy lines, there were lots of kids present, so it was exceptionally noisy. As such, I stripped out the background audio and dropped in a music track.
Specifically, it’s a music track I threw together quite some time ago based on some simple Apple Garageband loops. I’ve been using it for years without an issue. It’s by no means a great or original piece of music, but (critically) it is one that’s based on loops that Apple happily provides royalty-free.
I’d previously used other royalty-free music for videos, but I was always somewhat concerned by the fact that I was simply resting on the promises of others that it had proper copyright clearance. As someone who makes their living writing, copyright is important to me, and I totally get why it’s important to musicians as well.
Editing over, I hit upload, and thanks to Australia’s current broadband network speeds, I went to get a cup of coffee and wait for it to finish. Which it did, only to be hit with a copyright claim.
This had me worried; YouTube’s not the most responsive of critters at the best of times, and I initially figured it might be from the legal types at Disney/Lucas, because, well, Star Wars. That’s a fight I wouldn’t take on per se, because there are reasonable limits, even though they might be in the wrong.
But it wasn’t the video that was the problem, but the music. YouTube’s automated response read as follows:
Hi Alex Kidman,
Due to a copyright claim, you are no longer monetising the following YouTube video. It is still playable on YouTube, but the copyright owner could choose to show ads on it.
Video title: Star Wars Command Star Destroyer Hands On Review
Copyrighted song: Before Life – After Life
Claimed by: TuneCore

This, it seemed to me, was rather odd. I’m not entirely a stranger to YouTube takedown notices, it should be noted. In a previous editorial role, I was provided with some movie clips for a competition that was being run by the Australian arm of a particular film studio, and the moment those hit YouTube, the automated arm of that same film studio in the US had them pulled. That was a fun mess to sort out, but at least in that case there was a clear copyright path with just a little confusion.
Equal full disclaimer time. I’ve also used a YouTube copyright complaint form myself. That was a weird little case where a comedy review I’d written — this one, to be precise, for the woefully funny PS2 game “WWC – World Wrestling Championship” — was used by someone as a script for their own video. That was taken down rather quickly.
So I’m no stranger to the issues around copyright on YouTube. So I dug a little deeper. The artist claim in question is for an “Allen Washington”, but the only references to “Allen Washington — Before Life – After Life” I could find was this link at Spinlet which is still active, and one at Deezer which is entirely inactive.
I have a feeling I know why Deezer’s link is inactive.
Now I’ve used those loops for years now, and I’m not happy with the idea of TuneCore or “Allen Washington” dropping ads on my content, just as they’d be entirely within their rights not to be happy if I were ripping off their content for my video. But I’m not, and it appears that I’m not the only one being targeted this way for this specific “artist”.
What’s particularly irritating here is that while I responded within seconds to the takedown complaint, citing the specific Garageband loops — if you’re curious, it’s a mix of “Funky Electric Guitar 03” and “80s Pop Synthesizer 01” — YouTube gives the copyright complainant a full month to respond to the claim.
Not that “Allen Washington” was the one in charge of the takedown notice anyway. I don’t expect to hear from him. Instead, he’s signed up with a mob called “Tunecore”.
Tunecore‘s business is in digital music rights distribution, and its website proudly states that it allows musicians to “Get a fair deal. Keep 100% of your sales revenue”. All laudable stuff — when it’s accurate.
So I figured I’d try to accelerate the process, because I suspected that “Allen Washington” may just have signed up with Tunecore on the basis of some easily slapped together Garageband loops (certainly, that’s how I made my own “music”) and they may be unaware that they’re pursuing spurious cases.
It’s not exactly easy to contact anyone at Tunecore for this kind of thing, because it hides behind a general web form, but I sent through an email outlining exactly what the issue was, how they were representing an artist falsely claiming copyright, and that I’d appreciate some kind of response.
What I got was this:
Hi Alex,
I’m sorry but if you are receiving a YouTube Takedown notice we are not able to provide legal advice. You will have to seek legal consuel regarding this matter and they should then be able to assist you further. If this is related to anything within your TuneCore account we can then assist you further.
Questions? Get Help:
Artist & Video Specialist

If it weren’t for the “Legal Consuel” bit, I’d presume it was a stock form response. Still, it’s a long distance from satisfactory on many levels, and I’ve responded pointing out that I’m not seeking legal advice from them. Indeed, given that there are penalties for spurious DMCA takedown style notices, I’m effectively giving them legal advice.
Then again, delving a little deeper, it appears that Tunecore might not be all that nice to the artists it “represents” in any case, if this story is any indication.
There’s also this, written by one of the founders of Tunecore, no longer present there. There’s an obvious potential issue there as he appears to be involved now with a similar competing venture but it’s still not looking promising.
Here’s the thing. I could quite easily swap out another piece of music, and I’m not claiming that what I’ve got running in the background is in any way particularly good. It’s certainly not original, either. But YouTube, as it stands, is a massive mess and a headache on every side of the equation. I could jump to something else and have the exact same scenario unfold. Indeed, I’ll be interested to see what happens the next time I do upload a video with the same backing music.
There’s no doubting or denying that there are reams of genuinely infringing material being uploaded every day, and automated processes are probably the best way to keep track of it all. Those being genuinely dodgy — movies and the like — are under no illusions about what they’re doing. There’s a huge gap there, however, between that and (especially in the always-on-digital-age) having a thirty day response period for a spurious — and it is spurious copyright claim with no genuine merit.
I’ve no doubt that I’ll “win” this particular case, and equally, I’ve no doubt that Tunecore won’t face any particular penalty that’ll change their business model a single bit. That’s the real problem here, because without real penalty for those making iffy claims, there’s no reason not to keep on doing it.
Update: Tunecore has provided me with an alternate email address to contact. I’ll see how that one goes.
Update: To their credit, Tunecore has responded to my complaint relatively promptly, although not in an entirely satisfactory way.
Specifically, they’ve stated in the email response that this isn’t something that they can entirely control.
I mean, I would have thought that if your business was licensing out music, and chasing up the licences for that music, then this is exactly what you do and something that should have been well within your control.
Their push is that its up to their client to be responsible for the compositions submitted to them.
Or in other words, they’re not even checking it.
An apology might also have been nice, but then I hit the second part of the email, in which TuneCore’s “Alan” — he doesn’t seem to have a second name — complains that posting an email between myself and Tunecore is a “violation of their terms and conditions”.
Which is interesting, because I never signed up to those terms and conditions, and what’s more the email response I got from Allessandra didn’t in fact have that particular escape clause within it anyway. Sorry, Tunecore, but that stands, as does my response to you — reproduced below — because as its author I own that copyright. Remember copyright? That stuff you try to profit from but won’t take a fair share of responsibly policing?
Hi Alan,
Thankyou for your prompt response. I’m not entirely happy with your statement that “this isn’t something that you can control” — if you’re simply allowing “creators” to claim copyright on any and every bit of music out there, and waiting for others to clean up the mess while you claim the rights that’s extremely poor form in my opinion, because you’re actively damaging the interests of other copyright creators along the way.
Equally, I would have contacted you directly had it been easy and obvious how to do so. It isn’t, which was why I went through the web form.
Finally, I’ve never signed up to your terms and conditions re: email, and in any case the response published at Fat Duck Tech carried no such terms and conditions, so there’s absolutely no violation present there in any way shape or form. I’ll also be posting my part of this response into the article, because as its writer I am the copyright holder on that part of the conversation.
Alex Kidman

Update (again!):
Further correspondence from TuneCore. Again, they’re stating that their confidentiality clause (again, not on the original email) is in force, so I’m not reproducing it in whole. They do, however, “thank” me for bringing the case to their attention. Not an apology by any means, but a thanks for doing their job for them.
Naturally, I feel wonderful about that.
They’re also, however, trying to vaguely and obtusely (in my opinion) bring legal pressure via that confidentiality clause, because I’ve published the full legal name of one of their clients.
Sorry, TuneCore, but I never knew the full legal name of one of your clients until YouTube told me so yesterday on account of your automated takedown notice.
You remember that one? The one that started this whole mess because you didn’t check to see if you were claiming copyright — and no doubt actual cold hard cash — on behalf of someone who had no right to that copyright?
Yeah. That one. That’s where I got that name from, and as such, its publication stands as well. I’ve let them know as such, though I suspect this is where the story ends for now.
Although I do wonder how soon “shortly” will be in relation to the actual takedown notice being removed. Something tells me they might just sit on it for the full 30 days out of spite. We shall see.
Update: To give them fair credit, the copyright claim has now been removed.

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