The idea of exploitation is always at the center of discussions over copyright, especially when social networks like Youtube get involved. What makes this situation especially complicated is the fact that the MCN (multi-channel network) Fullscreen is supposedly making a profit off of the Youtube users. So here is the chain of exploitation so far:
- Artist creates song. Record company exploits artist by owning copyright and squeezing every penny they can.
- Artist gets exploited again, this time by Fullscreen, because their song is covered on Youtube by someone else.
- Simultaneously, the Youtube cover bands are being exploited by Fullscreen.
- Fullscreen is also exploiting Youtube and the record company’s copyright.
- NMPA and record companies are looking to exploit their copyright holdings by suing Fullscreen.
All around, people are making a profit except for the people who are doing the actual work in creating and disseminating material: i.e. the artists who wrote the songs and those who covered the songs. There’s really no harm in Youtube covers, but this all gets very messy when you have a middleman like Fullscreen trying to make a profit off of the Youtube users.
This all bears an eery resemblance to patent trolling, where companies basically do nothing but sit on ideas until someone actually does something with them, or does something similar. The patent troll company then attempts to make profit from lawsuits, essentially profiting off someone else’s work. The NMPA and record execs probably aren’t really all that upset about groups like Fullscreen, as it allows them another way to profit off of the artists that they’re already sucking dry. Just when that single stops selling and the touring dies down and merch sales drop, they can sue some poor saps who were just trying to make a popular Youtube video.
So here again we see corporate exploitation of folk cultural practice. Music was always meant to be shared, carrying cultural information with it. It’s a major way in which culture is spread. We will continue to see issues like this as long as culture, business and networking technology persist in becoming more and more intertwined. There is no avoiding this. The way we share culture has always been tied to the way we share information and that has always been tied to the latest technology. Business also benefits from the same technology and right now big business is in information: networking, distributing and owning it. Unless we have a way of disentangling culture from business, this is just the way things are going to be. Crowd-sourcing, participatory labor, etc. are made very exploitable due to the way we all use the internet to share culture. First comes free and open culture, then comes the big-business clamp-down and the transfer from an open system to a closed one.
Hopefully in the future I will explore this in a more academic manner, once I finish Tim Wu’s The Master Switch. I’m getting a lot of ideas from that book and I think this line of thought will fit in well with the notes I’m taking from reading that.