Does Copyright Matter in the Digital Age?

By Rodric David

Redfoo stands with Rodric David
Thunder Studios’ CEO Rodric David with recording artist Redfoo.

Irving Azoff, famed entertainment executive and musician manger, intensified his campaign against YouTube with a barrage of tweets on June 22, including a declaration of his support for the initiative of 180+ recording artists who had recently published an open letter to Congress. The letter lobbies for an update to the nearly 20 year old Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). Azoff joins artists including Taylor Swift, U2, Elton John, and Christina Aguilera who are incensed that Internet service providers, websites, and streaming services are, in many instances, protected from violations of copyright infringement of an artist’s rights. Currently, the only way for a recording artist to keep their copyrighted work off of YouTube is to send a notice for each instance their work is uploaded by any user. This is a near impossible task given the fact that YouTube sees 500 hours of video content uploaded every minute. 

Rodric David, smiling with arms crossed, in official headshot as the Chairman and CEO of Thunder Studios
Rodric David is the Chairman and CEO of Thunder Studios.

YouTube is specifically in Azoff’s crosshairs because they have built a massive business on allowing consumers to upload, distribute, and share copyrighted material while paying artists peanuts. His anger and frustration is detailed in his open letter to YouTube dated May 9th in which he states to YouTube, “You have built a business that works really well for you and Google, but it doesn’t work well for artists.” Azoff further states, “Your attempt at ‘Setting the Record Straight’ through a post on your ‘creator blog’ last month did exactly the opposite: It was obfuscation to divert artists’ attention from the fact that YouTube hides behind the DMCA’s ‘safe harbor’ provision and pays artists a pittance.” The group argues that the DMCA simply doesn’t work because it was originally drafted in an era with a vastly different technological landscape. See Irving Azoff @irvingazoff on Twitter to follow the developing story

I believe that Mr. Azoff has commenced the content war that I predicted between creators and the distribution platforms that pay zero or minimal compensation for the use of copyrighted material. Whilst I originally termed this pending conflict “The Eyeball War” it clearly extends to audio content as well. The technology used by many distribution platforms is easily replicable, what is not so easily duplicated is the audience curation. This would require an alliance between content owners to scale more readily and potentially give rise to more artist friendly platforms. The sooner artists and creators recognize this and collaborate to defend their rights, the sooner creators will control their own monetization opportunities.