Rights holding corporations bullying users of public domain content

A glimpse at some of what I’m dealing with in maintaining our online presence

UPDATED JAN 6, 2021

This may seem esoteric and of little interest to the community of Holy Trinity. I might have agreed 10 months ago before we really posted any online content other than on our website. However, communications and technology tasks have often fallen to me and so I wound up in the world of Youtube content and automated copyright claims.

At first I didn’t understand the claims and had to do some homework. After I got over the initial shock, I didn’t think too much about them. The odd time something was actually under copyright, I did nothing. I let the Youtube system do its thing. However, many of the claims were for works that I knew to be in the public domain. I found Hymnary.org very useful in confirming this and in providing evidence for the dispute.

As time went on and the claims continued, I started to become quite annoyed with the amount of time taken up by disputing copyright claims on public domain work. At this point I started logging the time spent. I’m not exactly sure what percentage is claimed, but I estimate it to be somewhere in the 10-15% range.

Till this week, it was merely a nuisance as the copyright owners always capitulated. However, this week two rights holders decided to have a more serious go at me.

Summary of the Youtube Copyright Claim/Dispute process

  1. an uploaded video is run through the ContentID system, comparing it to data uploaded by rights holders and if a match is found, a Copyright claim is automatically registered. (This means that the claimant can monetize the video by placing ads on it)
  2. I can either accept the claim or dispute the claim.
  3. If I dispute the claim, the claimant has 30 days to either accept my dispute and release the claim or deny it.
  4. I may appeal their rejection, but appeals are not heard by a third party. The appeal simply goes back to the claimant.)
  5. If the appeal is denied, then our channel receives a copyright strike.
  6. Three strikes and you’re out–channel disabled.

There are two corporations who have denied my claims of public domain use of music: Hexacorp and BMG. The two melodies being claimed are Angels from the Realms of Glory (used in Christmas Story) and Alleluia, Sing to Jesus (used in Love Divine). In both cases the claims made are that the video uses the song’s melody.

Regent Square is the melody name given to the tune we use for Angels from the Realms of Glory. It was written in 1866 by Thomas Smart and published for the first time the following year.

Hyfrydol, is an exceptionally famous melody used for many things. It was not the original melody for Love Divine (Charles Wesley, 1747), but it may be the most famous. It was written in 1830 by Welsh Composer Rowland Hugh Prichard and first published in 1844.

It is entirely possible that both of these companies have specific recordings of these songs for which they own performance rights. However, the claims being made are to ownership of the melody, which they clearly do not and can not have. This would be bad enough if there was a mechanism by which to hold them to account. However, there is none. The cards are pretty much all held by these big rights companies. The threat is all on the video creators. These companies face no repercussions for claiming public domain works and there is nowhere even to report this.

In trying to find an avenue to meaningfully address this injustice, I have done extensive searching online. It has only confirmed my suspicion that this is an utterly unaddressed problem with no clear path to resolution. In a case that touches on Fair Use rather than public domain, NYU School of Law ran afoul of the system and even with all their legal acumen could not find an official avenue to address the problem.

Issues with automated copyright claims and the issue of so-called “Copyfraud or Overclaiming” are laid out very clearly here by iRights, a German-based digital rights advisor to the non-profit sector.

Composers and artists have noticed too–the Electronic Frontier Foundation has posted a detailed description of the problems with ContentID: How YouTube’s Content ID Discourages Fair Use and Dictates What We See Online (EFF, Dec 2020). The trouble is, as you will see reading any of these articles, that there is no real avenue to address the problem. Big rights holders and tech giants are holding all the cards:

“… many video creators have made the calculation that simply accepting a Content ID match and either acquiescing to the penalty or re-editing the video is the safest course of action.”

At this point I don’t have any particular ask of anyone except to say that they should not be afraid to push back at least a little. I expect that very few people challenge this authority when faced with it and that helps reinforce it. In addition, I’d appreciate it if you would keep notes of claims you may receive on public domain work and share with me. Please include the entire claim statement with the company name, song name and specific claim (performance, composition, melody).

For example this is the most recent notice I received from BMG:

Angels From The Realms Of Glory
Video uses this song’s melody
Video cannot be monetized
Dispute rejected
19:52 / 50:16
Copyright owner’s policy
Monetized in some territories
Content found during
Copyright owners
BMG Rights Management (US), LLC, ARESA, Capitol CMG Publishing, UMPG Publishing, Wixen Music Publishing, Inc., Adorando Brazil

I don’t expect any great action, but didn’t want to simply be silent either.