Jamie Davis-Ponce is a professional musician and graduate of Northeastern University's Master of Music Industry Leadership program with a concentration in entrepreneurship. She has been a music lecturer at Ithaca College, and is deeply involved in Boston-area arts and music organizations.
Soon we may be rewriting The Buggles’ hit lyrics to say "Audio fingerprinting killed the video star," as automated systems like Vimeo’s new Copyright Match block more fan content and limit the online buzz for hit songs.
Artists have been uploading their music and videos to social networks such as YouTube, MySpace, Facebook and Vimeo for over a decade. The wild west of uploading is gradually becoming more regulated as internet companies try to limit lawsuits from record companies and fight music piracy. The advent of audio fingerprinting technology, such as Vimeo’s Copyright Match, is making it easier for sites like YouTube and Vimeo to automatically block content that infringes on copyrights. But these automated systems can also limit artists in how they share their music and engage fans in the creative process. Here's the lowdown on how Vimeo's new audio fingerprinting system impacts your band's ability to share and monetize music online.
What is Vimeo’s Copyright Match?
In May, Vimeo announced its adoption of the Copyright Match system by Audible Magic to ID videos that include copyrighted songs. Song owners upload their songs to the Audible Magic database to create a compact digital "fingerprint" of the song, and the system scans new uploads and existing videos for cases of infringement (i.e. any videos not uploaded by the copyright owner). It then blocks the infringing uploads and takes down any existing infringing videos.
Who benefits from audio fingerprinting?
For record companies that have been endlessly searching for ways to stop the tide of digital piracy audio, fingerprinting technology offers them far greater control over the content on Vimeo and other music and video sharing websites.
For artists, audio fingerprinting has a downside, often preventing the artists themselves from promoting their own music online and from engaging fans through the creating of fan videos. The movement is part of a larger push by internet content companies away from the hosting of riskier fan-generated content towards professionally licensed online music video services, including the planned Vimeo on Demand video download service and YouTube's rumored Music Pass subscription and download service.
New limits to your online distribution
Your band probably has some clips from concerts or songs from your album up on social media and other content sharing sites. These channels allow you to reach fans, receive feedback on your music and generally express yourself and your creative vision. Audio fingerprinting technology, including Vimeo's new Copyright Match system, may soon make it difficult to share your music online.
If you have a record deal and do not exclusively own the rights to your songs, then your music may already be part of the Audible Magic copyright database. This database is used not only by Vimeo, but also by Facebook, MySpace, MTV, SoundCloud, Verizon, Dailymotion and Viacom, among others. The wide use of the audio fingerprinting database means that every time you or a fan attempts to upload a clip of one of your songs to any of the companies using Audible Magic, your music may be blocked. While audio fingerprinting allows record labels to better control their catalogs, this system does not favor grassroots distribution.
What happens to flagged videos?
Unlike YouTube, which gives owners of fingerprinted content the choice to track views or monetize videos that use their music, Vimeo's system will prevent music from being used by non-owners. If you're signed to a label and the record company already submitted your songs to the database for fingerprinting, you might not be allowed to upload your own music videos to Vimeo.
If your Vimeo video is flagged by the Copyright Match system, you will be forced to remove the video or change the soundtrack. You can appeal the match if you think the system made an error or that you have a claim to fair use, but until the issue is resolved your video will not go live on the site. Vimeo assures users that all appeals will be reviewed by "real human beings with faces," but it is unclear how long your contested video will remain in limbo.
How does Vimeo’s Copyright Match affect cover videos?
Normally you can cover someone else's song by paying a small statutory licensing fee for each copy you create, but with audio fingerprinting, this could be severely curtailed since the automated system does not take licenses into consideration. Unfortunately, the Copyright Match system will not know that you already paid the Harry Fox Agency for a mechanical license to record a cover of a song and will probably end up flagging it. You can appeal when the system tells you that you can't upload a song that you legally licensed, but be prepared provide your proof for the license including receipts, confirmation numbers, etc.
Do I have to participate in Copyright Match?
If you want fans to be able to make their own videos featuring your songs, then uploading your tracks to the Audible Magic fingerprinting database may not be a great idea. If you do not participate in fingerprinting, you can still send takedown notices to Vimeo and other content sharing sites to make them remove videos that infringe on your copyrights. The advantage to audio fingerprinting is that it automatically polices your music, but the downside is that you may actually want the publicity and money that come from some forms of infringement. "Gangnam Style" by PSY, with more than 2 billion views, showed us all the power of fan videos to create fame and fortune for artists. Blocking infringing videos without offering the option to monetize them may make it harder for songs to go viral.
How to fingerprint your music
Audible Magic already has deals with the major record companies so that most new albums automatically get added to the fingerprint database. Independent artists and small labels can add music by requesting the free fingerprinting software from Audible Magic, or by uploading their tracks to the My Rights View platform. As of the time of this writing, the first five tracks are free to upload, but after the free trial you will be paying between $0.40 and $1.00 per track for fingerprinting, depending upon the number of upload credits you purchase. All uploads must be in MP3, WAV or WMA format.
How to keep your music on Vimeo
If you own all of the rights to your songs, you may be able to get your music added to Vimeo's Music Store for video creators to license and use in their videos. Partnerships with companies like Free Music Archive, Audio Socket and Friendly Music (which partners with CD Baby and others) all provide tracks for the Vimeo Music Store Catalog.
Potential for future monetization
Although currently focused on copyright policing, audio fingerprinting technology could potentially evolve as a way to get more performance and licensing royalties for artists. For now, systems such as Copyright Match are in place to limit liability for the websites that host music and videos, but it's easy to imagine a future in which performance rights organizations like ASCAP using audio fingerprinting to find out how often songs are performed online and to collect more royalties for song owners.