What’s Good for Google is Not What’s Good for the USA: Supreme Court Brief of @davidclowery, @helienne, @theblakemorgan and @sgawrites in Google v. Oracle, Part 6

Google’s appeal of its major loss to Oracle on fair use is shaping up to be the most important copyright case of the year, if not the decade.  It could set fair use standards for years to come.  We’re going to be posting installments from the friend of the court brief that David, Helienne, Blake and The Songwriters Guild filed in the U.S. Supreme Court supporting Oracle in the Google v. Oracle fair use case.  This is the last installment.  We decided to omit the footnotes for this posting, but you can read the whole brief here.

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Moreover, Amici believe that Google’s fair use expansion campaigns are designed to serve as a honeypot for Google’s data scraping business model that feeds its outsized profits from ads. Google likewise seems to promote expansion of the fair use doctrine as way to easily keep more videos on YouTube, while providing material support to its partners that allows them to outlast any songwriter or artist in the game of whack-a-mole under its copyright strike policies. No one is giving creators a shadowy milliondollar fund to defend against the misapplication of fair use.

Amicus Mr. Lowery summed it up in his 2014 testimony to the House Judiciary Committee:

I am not concerned with parody, commentary, criticism, documentary filmmakers, or research. These are legitimate fair use categories. I am concerned with the illegal copy that masquerades as fair use, but is really just a copy. This masquerade trivializes legitimate fair use categories and creates conflict where there need be none.

Scope of Fair Use at 22.

Unfortunately, Google manipulates fair use to extract value by monetizing verbatim  copies to the great disadvantage of creators who can little afford to fight back against the multi-national, trillion dollar corporation, and usually do not. Thus, independents
are caught without leverage in cases that rarely get to court.

The end result is that even where its use is “free,” Google’s interests are steadfastly commercial. Accordingly, the Federal Circuit was correct in finding that the nature and purpose of Google’s use was entirely commercial in nature.


The ultimate question in a fair use analysis is “whether, and how powerfully, a finding of fair use would serve or disserve the objectives of the copyright.” Leval at 1110–1111; see also Harper & Row, 471 U.S. at 546 (noting purpose of copyright is to give creators
“a fair return for their labors”).

Google’s only response to whether its use furthers the public interest—i.e., in promoting an effective system of copyright—is that allowing it to copy verbatim Oracle’s declaring code and structure would be “promoting software innovation.” Such verbatim copying is a “facile use of the scissors.” Folsom v. Marsh, 9 F. Cas. 342, 345 (C.C.D. Mass 1841) (Story, J.).

Yet what is good for Google is not synonymous with what is good for the public—no more than “[w]hat’s good for General Bullmoose is good for the USA.” Johnny Mercer and Gene De Paul, Li’l Abner (1956).  In fact, a ruling for Google would be “promoting” software innovation only in that the purported “innovation” would be furthering Google’s private
interest—i.e., using works without permission or a license fee.

This case again appears to be the latest in Google’s long-term strategy to use its market dominance and overwhelming commercial power to continually distort copyright exceptions, thereby artificially depressing the market price of copyrighted works.  Google’s proposed outcome would be yet another distortion. Were Google to prevail here, Amici expect Google (and its proxies) to throw its full weight behind such a ruling, far beyond the confines of its text. This case would become another totemic faux license or safe harbor that Google could use as a cudgel against creators and copyright owners.

Left unchecked, eventually the copyright distortions they seek—including in the case at bar—could nullify copyright, particularly for those who cannot afford to fight back or fear retaliation for doing so. Under the Google anti-copyright regime, exceptions would devour the rules of protection in whole, digesting art and culture along with them.


Amici respectfully suggest that the Court should consider whether a decision in favor of Google would merely “unleash” yet another weapon for Google’s private benefit, and whether Google’s infringement of Oracle’s declaring code and structure constitutes
“simple piracy” for which the company should most certainly be held accountable.

This Court should affirm the decision of the Federal Circuit below.
Respectfully submitted,
Counsel of Record
(914) 366-6642

(512) 420-2200
Counsel for Amici Curiae


How Google Treats Copyright as an Inconvenience: Supreme Court Brief of @davidclowery, @helienne, @theblakemorgan and @sgawrites in Google v. Oracle, Part 5

Google’s appeal of its major loss to Oracle on fair use is shaping up to be the most important copyright case of the year, if not the decade.  It could set fair use standards for years to come.  We’re going to be posting installments from the friend of the court brief that David, Helienne, Blake and The Songwriters Guild filed in the U.S. Supreme Court supporting Oracle in the Google v. Oracle fair use case.  This is part 5.  We decided to omit the footnotes for this posting, but you can read the whole brief here.

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Cover Page of Friend of the Court Brief


B. Google Benefits Commercially from Weaker Copyright Protection.

Amici, as creators in the digital age, are largely beholden to the whims of distributors. As romantic the notion is of solitary artists laboring over their works, the fact remains that they will ultimately need to distribute their creative expression. That means going
through Google far more often than not.

Artists like Amici have a tense relationship with Google and its subsidiaries. On the one hand, Google controls access to the market directly or indirectly. On the other hand, Google has consistently abused or outright ignored copyright when it comes to
interactions with creators and their intellectual property.

For example, when YouTube rolled out its subscription service, it reportedly warned independent artists and labels that if they refused YouTube’s licensing terms, their music would be blocked on YouTube’s free service, and YouTube would keep any advertising revenue. Ben Sisario, Independent Music Labels Are in a Battle with YouTube, N.Y. Times
(May 24, 2014) https://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/24/business/media/independent-music-labels-are-in-abattle-with-youtube.html.

In Amici’s experience, Google has a long history of leveraging copyright exceptions for its enormous profit at creators’ expense. Through YouTube, Google profits directly from verbatim copies of Amici’s own works. These copies are often unauthorized, unlicensed, and severely undermonetized. See Jonathan Taplin, Do You Love Music? Silicon Valley Doesn’t, L.A. Times (May 20, 2016).

Google is able to artificially lower the floor for the market for music and other copyrighted works by strategically leveraging a variety of copyright exceptions and loopholes across all of its platforms, particularly YouTube and search.

As discussed above, in order to maximize user engagement with its ads, Google needs a constant influx of creative content. Copyright is treated as an imposition, and Google avoids liability through an abuse of exceptions such as the safe harbor provisions
in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. See 17 U.S.C. § 512(a)–(d). Google frequently argues that these provisions immunize Google from liability for infringing content, while also making it very easy for Google to restore content with the check of a box.

Google has cobbled together a system of copyright “strikes” based on DMCA notices received from copyright owners against infringing YouTube channels. With sufficient strikes, YouTube blocks public access to the channel. The channel operator, however, can easily restore content by filing a counternotification with YouTube often attesting without firm legal grounds to a good faith belief that their unauthorized use of the material is non-infringing.

Such an assertion frequently mimics Google’s general assertions that the fair use doctrine is malleable enough to accommodate any use no matter how damaging, non-transformative, commercially based or unnecessarily broad. See 17 U.S.C. § 512(g)(3)(C).
Assuming the copyright owner does not seek relief in court—and very few do because of the prohibitive costs and time required—then YouTube restores the content, and Google has another video to monetize.

Thus, assertions of fair use (real or imagined) play a critical role in this scheme, and therefore ultimately Google’s advertising inventory. YouTube’s counternotification
webform, in fact, arguably encourages a channel operator to claim a good-faith belief that its infringing video was fair use under the broadest of circumstances. See Lenz v. Universal Music Corp., 801 F.3d 1126 (9th Cir. 2015).

These channel operators are rarely represented by counsel, meaning their claims of fair use are more folk wisdom and internet legend than law. Five-time Grammy Award winner and independent composer and band leader Maria Schneider gave an example of this culture in comments to the Copyright Office:

“As just one small example, just put in the YouTube “search” bar the phrases “fair use” and “full CD.” There are literally countless whole albums digitally uploaded by users who state that it is “fair use” (which it obviously isn’t).

YouTube knows there is infringement of epic proportions broadly across its platform, and . . .certainly makes it possible, and easier, for infringement to occur.”

Coupled with its porous repeat infringer policy, YouTube has leveraged counternotifications into a broad-based fair use business strategy—truly an attempt to fashion its non-existent “fair use industries” entirely out of whole cloth.

Google overamplifies fair use in other ways. For example, since 2015, YouTube has  sponsored an initiative to subsidize legal fees for certain fair use cases that it decides are “some of the best examples of fair use on YouTube by agreeing to defend them in
court if necessary.”34 YouTube announced that it intended to “indemnify creators whose fair use videos have been subject to takedown notices for up to $1 million of legal costs in the event the takedown results in a lawsuit for copyright infringement.”

Google tells us “[they] believe even the small number of videos [Google] are able to protect will make a positive impact on the entire YouTube ecosystem, ensuring
YouTube remains a place where creativity and expression can be rewarded.”

The promise of Google’s million-dollar fair use indemnity promotion effectively provides a faux license against copyright liability without the consent of the copyright owner, and purports to protect YouTube partners for fair use cases that Google judges worthy, i.e., cases that promote Google’s private interests in protecting and expanding YouTube’s advertising inventory. It is unclear which, if any, cases Google or YouTube have taken on under this indemnity or what the criteria would be because Google does not disclose
when or if they get involved. One can easily discern through market behavior, however, that the threat alone more than satisfies Google’s imputed aims to dissuade creators from even attempting to enforce their rights.

[To be continued…]

Copyright Office Regulates The MLC: Selected Public Comments on the Copyright Office Black Box Study: Zoë Keating

[The Copyright Office is asking for public comments on best practices for dealing with the black box as part of the “Unclaimed Royalties Study” mandated by the Music Modernization Act.  We are posting comments or excerpts from comments that we found interesting starting with comments by our friend Zoë Keating.  You can find other the posted comments here.]

Regarding unclaimed royalties: To facilitate the population of correct metadata going forward, when someone registers a composition or a composition with a sound recording, that information should lead to an automatic registration with the MLC.

Why is it necessary in the first place to register works in so many places? Why can’t I as a self-published composer who owns all my copyrights, register my compositions and my recordings with the copyright office and have that information shared with the MLC for mechanical rights, SoundExchange for digital performing rights and a selected PRO for the performance right?

I am making this comment here in the unclaimed royalty study because as long as this is not facilitated, there will continue to be more unclaimed royalties than there should be. As long as the process remains confusing and opaque to self-published creators, who will rely exclusively on the MLC, there will be gaps in the data. As long as there are gaps in the data, the more likely it is that royalties will go unclaimed.

Rather than spend money on continually educating the public as to where they need to register their information in order to collect a royalty – why not spend the money to automate the process from the inception?

As for the unmatched royalties themselves, I have the following comment:

A database of the unmatched compositions for which there are royalties should be publicly searchable in order to effectively crowd-source and facilitate at least part of the matching process. There are bound to be errors on the DSP reporting side, some of which the copyright owners themselves might be familiar with from reporting errors in the past with other types of royalty databases, and know what to look for.

Also, given that the MLC will be collecting royalties on behalf of foreign songwriters and publishers, I would expect the core MLC database itself and any searchable index of the unmatched database to feature standardized character normalization for search and subsequent matching of diacritics, umlauts, accents etc.

There are untold riches in running the internet of other people’s things: Supreme Court Brief of @davidclowery, @helienne, @theblakemorgan and @sgawrites in Google v. Oracle, Part 4

Google’s appeal of its major loss to Oracle on fair use is shaping up to be the most important copyright case of the year, if not the decade.  It could set fair use standards for years to come.  We’re going to be posting installments from the friend of the court brief that David, Helienne, Blake and The Songwriters Guild filed in the U.S. Supreme Court supporting Oracle in the Google v. Oracle fair use case.  This is part 4.  We decided to omit the footnotes for this posting, but you can read the whole brief here.

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Cover Page of Friend of the Court Brief



Against this backdrop, Amici agree wholeheartedly with the Federal Circuit that “the fact that Android is free of charge does not make Google’s use of the Java API packages noncommercial.” Oracle Am., Inc. v. Google, LLC, 886 F.3d 1179, 1197 (Fed. Cir. 2018) (“Oracle II”). In arriving at this conclusion, the Federal Circuit cited evidence that Google generated over $42 billion from Android through advertising. Id. at 1187, 1197.

Google concedes that its creation of Android was “a commercial endeavor,” but argues more amorphously that its copying of Oracle’s code and organization served the noncommercial purpose of “promoting software innovation.” Pet. Br. at 43-44. Likewise,
Google’s amici argue that because Android was offered to consumers for free, its copyright cannot be commercial. See Copyright Scholars Br. At 12.

Yet contrary to the views of Google’s amici, the Federal Circuit properly found that Google’s use was commercial and properly weighed such a commerciality finding in the fair use inquiry. Just because Google did not sell Android to consumers does not mean its
copying did constitute commercial use. In fact, the $42 billion figure cited by the Federal Circuit is likely only the tip of the iceberg.

A. Google’s Market Dominance Lowers the “Customary Price” of Copyrighted Works.

As this Court stated in Harper & Row, whether a use is commercial “is not whether the sole motive of the use is monetary gain but whether the user stands to profit from exploitation of the copyrighted material without paying the customary price.” 471 U.S. at 562 (emphasis added). In other words, a commercial use is found where a defendant is “[g]iving customers for free something they would ordinarily have to buy.”  Oracle II, 886 F.3d at 1197 (quoting A&M Records, Inc. v. Napster, Inc., 239 F.3d 1004, 1015 (9th Cir. 2001)).

The Federal Circuit is in accord with the other Courts of Appeals that have considered this proposition. See, e.g., Soc’y of Holy Transfiguration Monastery, Inc. v. Gregory, 689 F.3d 29, 61 (2d Cir. 2012) (“‘Profit,’ in this context, is thus not limited simply to dollars and coins; instead, it encompasses other non-monetary calculable benefits or advantages.”); Weissmann v. Freeman, 868 F.2d 1313, 1324 (2d Cir. 1989) (factor one disfavored use where professor’s benefit in academic prestige and recognition was “ill-measured in dollars”); A&M Records, 239 F.3d at 1015 (“Direct economic benefit is not required to
demonstrate a commercial use.”); see generally Nimmer on Copyright 13.05  “Commercial uses’ are extremely broad.”).

Here, there should be no question that the purpose of offering a mobile platform was commercial in nature: Google simply wanted to maintain its ad sales dominance. See Oracle II, 886 F.3d at 1210.

One thing that content creators have grown to understand is that Google is not a tech company—it is an advertising company. When one sees this, all is revealed. See Jake Swearingen, Can Google Be More Than an Advertising Company? New York Magazine
(Feb. 5, 2019) (“Of the $39 billion [Google’s parent Alphabet] brought in [during Q4 2018], $32.6 billion of it was in advertising revenue — that’s 83 percent of its total revenue.”). Google has become enormously successful, though not always transparently.
Moreover, Google dominates the market for online advertising, with disturbing  implications for privacy.

As is well-known by now, Google extracts value from its users through selling advertising on works that Google makes available at no charge to the user, and through scraping user data in the background that Google then adds to its ballooning behavioral knowledge database through highly complex user profiling. Google extracts this value by selling targeted advertising, often in connection with verbatim copies of works generally offered for free to users on YouTube. There are untold riches in running the
internet of other people’s things.

The reason is this: free is critical to Google’s model, which depends on the en masse exploitation of copyrighted content. This business model is the sort that this Court has analyzed as commercial:

[Defendants] make money by selling advertising space, by directing ads to the screens of computers employing their software. As the record shows, the more the software is used, the more ads are sent out and the greater the advertising revenue becomes. Since the extent of the software’s use determines the gain to the distributors, the commercial sense of their enterprise turns on high-volume use, which the record shows is infringing.

See Grokster, 545 U.S. at 940. Likewise, Google’s business model enables staggering profits with little to no direct commercial transactions between it and the
end-user, particularly on YouTube. See Jason Fitzpatrick, If You’re Not Paying for It; You’re the Product, Lifehacker (Nov. 23, 2010).

Google’s evangelists have even coined a term to describe such takings: “permissionless innovation.” See Adam Thierer and The Mercatus Center, Permissionless Innovation and Public Policy: A 10 Point Program at 12 (2016). Vinton G. Cerf, Keep the Internet Open, N.Y. Times (May 24, 2012) https://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/25/opinion/keep-theinternet-

Yet “permissionless innovation” is just another term for what polite creators call the underpinning of the infamous “value gap” currently plaguing the global community of music creators and artists. In fact, the disparity between artists’ royalties and Google’s
enormous ad-based music distribution profits off of their music has become its own market phenomenon and largely led to the adoption of the European Copyright Directive in 2019 which seeks to address the devastating value gap by requiring Google to
operate on a more level playing field for creators.

In order to achieve and maintain permissionless innovation in the United States, accused infringers in contrast continue to lean on burden-shifting regimes like the DMCA safe harbors to impose the costs of policing infringement onto copyright owners while
giving Google leverage in licensing negotiations.

From a copyright perspective, permissionless innovation relies on a system of risk shifting safe harbors and forces artists into an unsustainable game of whack-a-mole to which Google’s amorphous interpretation of fair use is tightly bound. Google leverages this commercial windfall into exerting dominance at scale. For example, while Google makes much of the purported (and unsubstantiated) “lock in” effect that would result from Oracle’s vindication of its copyrights, see Pet. Br. 40, Google itself locks in creators to coerce their agreement to commercial deals with YouTube. For example and
as further discussed below, contracting with YouTube’s subscription service was a condition of access to YouTube’s infamous Content ID system28 a linkage that
continues to draw scrutiny.

Any revenue that copyright owners receive, then, must price in the transaction costs of dealing with Google’s unpredictable policies. The aggregate revenue from Google after deducting transaction costs is a long way from a “customary price.”

[To be continued]

It sure costs a lot of money to give things away for free: Supreme Court Brief of @davidclowery, @helienne, @theblakemorgan and @sgawrites in Google v. Oracle Part 3

Google’s appeal of its major loss to Oracle on fair use is shaping up to be the most important copyright case of the year, if not the decade.  It could set fair use standards for years to come.  We’re going to be posting installments from the friend of the court brief that David, Helienne, Blake and The Songwriters Guild filed in the U.S. Supreme Court supporting Oracle in the Google v. Oracle fair use case.  This is part 3.  We decided to omit the footnotes for this posting, but you can read the whole brief here.

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Cover Page of Friend of the Court Brief


IN THE MARKET (continued from Part 2).

Google interacts with the music industry in a variety of ways, but primarily through its YouTube video platform. YouTube is by far the world’s most popular music streaming service, with over 1.9 billion registered users as of June 2018. It is much, much
larger than subscription-based services like Spotify (with 160 million users) or Apple Music (with 45 million users). According to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, nearly half of all streaming users consume music on YouTube. It is hard to be in the music business online and not do business with YouTube.

And in turn, music is a large part of YouTube’s business. As of Jan 2020, 93% of the most-watched videos were music videos.” Kit Smith, 54 Fascinating and Incredible YouTube Statistics, Brandwatch (Jan. 17, 2020) available at https://www.brandwatch.com/blog/youtube-stats/; “47% of time spent listening to on-demand music is on YouTube,” Music Consumer Insight Report, International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) at 13 (2018). This revenue accrues to Google’s great benefit, with its parent company Alphabet reporting more than $15 billion in revenue from YouTube last year alone.

Unfortunately, despite YouTube’s market success, revenue does not proportionately flow back to copyright owners. In the aggregate, advertising-supported free streaming services (of which YouTube is by far the largest) contributed one-third of all streams in 2018, but only 8% of total revenue. See Recording Industry Association of America, RIAA 2018 Year End Music Revenue Report (Feb. 2019). YouTube’s royalty rates are consistently lowest among the top digital music services.  In fairness, Google does contract with aggregators representing independents to collect YouTube royalties, such as Audiam.
However, in Amici’s experience, YouTube is the primary music service that actually incorporates an ad hoc and arbitrary exploitation of copyright safe harbors
and exceptions like fair use as a part of its largely advertising-supported business model which is grounded substantially on “user-generated content” or “UGC.”

Therefore, YouTube is incentivized to unfairly attempt over and again to utilize narrow, statutory exceptions to copyright protection, including the fair use doctrine, on a seemingly ad hoc and extremely expansive basis to undermine the very protections that
creators rely on. This unpredictable fiat guides YouTube’s partners toward monetizing their UGC—which generates a reward of revenue that YouTube shares with the partner. Google’s exploitation of fair use as a business significantly increases the transaction cost of dealing with YouTube beyond what independents like Amici can reasonably afford. It sure costs a lot of money to give things away for free.

This is particularly true since independents cannot credibly use litigation as leverage against a commercial giant. Examples of these costs include engaging services to identify infringements and send takedown notices under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (hereinafter DMCA) for infringing links in search or on YouTube, or analyzing fair use claims in counternotifications. See 17 U.S.C. §§ 512(c)(1)(C), 512(g). Nor are these costs common across other ad-supported digital music services. For example, Amici
do not bear these high transaction costs with other ad-supported digital music services such as Spotify’s free version.

It appears to Amici that Google’s business model, both with YouTube and with its verbatim copying in Android, are prime examples of what one of Google’s
amici has repeatedly proclaimed to be the “fair use industries.”

Amici—like most creators—do not think of fair use as the basis for an “industry” whose “rights” can be asserted separately from authorship furthered by reliable rules of copyright protection and narrow exceptions under individualized, special circumstances.
If fair use were an “industry,” Amici would be rendered into both the unlicensed input and the royalty-free output of that economic sector, destroying the market balance that has developed under copyright regimes over a period of centuries. Rather, fair use is a
statutory defense that permits creators to use copyrighted materials for well-defined and generally noncommercial or noncompeting purposes. Without copyright, of course, there is no fair use. At best, the notion of “fair use industries” and its protection is a non-sequitur. At worst, it is a destroyer of markets and eventually of national cultures.

In short, the “fair use industries” spin is Google’s attempt to invent cover for its extremely predatory market practices against creators.  Amici are concerned that “fair use industries” are merely those markets in which Google’s monopoly power permits it to simply ignore the copyright interests of other market actors (including and especially independent creators) and call its conduct fair use, safe in the knowledge that challenging Google in court is a nonstarter for most independents. This spin is bolstered through funding academic research as well as outright lobbying and strategic litigation that consistently weakens copyright and undermines creators. Even Google’s amici in this appeal include individuals paid by or otherwise associated with Google. See Br. of 83 Computer Scientists at A1 n.1.

In fact, Google reportedly said as much to former Prime Minister David Cameron when lobbying him in 2011 to amend UK copyright laws to remove “barriers to new internet-based business models” raised by the “costs of obtaining permissions from existing rightsholders.”  Adam Sherwin, David Cameron’s “Google-Model” Vision for Copyright Under Fire, The Guardian (March 14, 2011) (“[Prime Minister Cameron’s announcement] was greeted with unalloyed delight at Google’s California HQ—and left the music industry, ravaged by web piracy, with that all too familiar sinking feeling.”).

Of course, Google’s responses are essentially the same each time—as they are [in the Oracle case].  Google wields a variety of weaponized copyright exceptions on top of rhetoric that is both deceptively public-spirited (letting Google win is “promoting innovation”) and ominous (impeding Google would “break the internet”). Google further seeks to justify these exceptions by trying to hide behind small players. It engages in astroturfing tactics to give the impression that it has more public support than it does.

All of this is on display in Google’s brief and its many amicus briefs. See, e.g., Pet. Br. 44 (“Android is an open source initiative that benefits hundreds of device manufacturers, millions of developers, and more than a billion consumers around the world.”), 45
(Android “enabled Java developers to unleash their creativity” by using Google’s platform), 49 (“Android benefitted Oracle”); 50 (finding against Google “would
disrupt the ongoing development of modern, interoperable computer software”).

[To be continued:  Google’s Use Is Clearly Commercial]

Google’s Fair Use Industries Part 2: Supreme Court Brief of @davidclowery, @helienne, @theblakemorgan and @sgawrites in Google v. Oracle

Google’s appeal of its major loss to Oracle on fair use is shaping up to be the most important copyright case of the year, if not the decade.  It could set fair use standards for years to come.  We’re going to be posting installments from the friend of the court brief that David, Helienne, Blake and The Songwriters Guild filed in the U.S. Supreme Court supporting Oracle in the Google v. Oracle fair use case.  This is part 2.  We decided to omit the footnotes for this posting, but you can read the whole brief here.

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Cover Page of Friend of the Court Brief



Copyright is of critical importance to independent creators and artists. It is not empty rhetoric to say that without the statutory and constitutional protections of copyright, professional creators could not earn their livings and simply would not produce new works, and the world would be poorer for it.  The reason is simple but profound: copyright protection allows for a vibrant creative environment in which artists can predictably recover the gains of their creative labors. See U.S. Const. Art. I, § 8, cl. 8; see also Harper & Row Publishers, Inc. v. Nation Enters., 471 U.S. 539, 558 (1985) (“By establishing a marketable right to the use of one’s expression, copyright supplies the economic incentive to create and disseminate ideas.”). Because Congress has codified this incentive structure through centuries of copyright legislation, independent artists
and songwriters regularly rely on the exercise of their exclusive rights by creating, reproducing, distributing and publicly performing their works.

Importantly, these rights are not just abstractions.  They tangibly alter the licensing negotiations vital to a modern creative ecosystem. An exclusive right to exploit a creative work (such as a musical composition or a sound recording) can be the only backstop against markets where the marginal cost to digitally create perfect copies of an original is nil. See Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc. v. Grokster, Ltd., 545 U.S. 913, 928 (2005) (noting “digital distribution of copyrighted material threatens copyright holders as never before, because every copy is identical to the original [and] copying is easy”). These burdens do not fall solely on creators of sound recordings or musical compositions, but extend across copyrightable subject matter, including visual arts, motion pictures, and literary works such as novels or software. See 17 U.S.C. §§ 101, 102(a).

To be sure, independent creators may also benefit from uses that fall under the category of fair use. Fair use helps disseminate the artist’s work to the larger culture, and increases the amplitude and quality of discourse within and surrounding the work—all without compromising the work’s value. See Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music, Inc., 510 U.S. 569, 578 (1994) (noting fair use must be analyzed “in light of thepurposes of copyright”); Pierre N. Leval, Toward a Fair Use Standard, 103 Harv. L. Rev. 1105, 1107 (1990). (“[f]air use should be perceived . . . as a rational, integral part of copyright, whose observance is
necessary to achieve the objectives of that law.”). It is therefore not surprising that a significant number of fair use cases arise in the music business. See, e.g., Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music, 510 U.S. 569 (1994); Estate of Smith v. Graham, No. 19-28 (2d Cir. Feb. 3,
2020); Capitol Records, LLC v. ReDigi Inc., No. 16-2321 (2d Cir. Dec. 12, 2018); Lennon v. Premise Media Corp., 556 F. Supp. 2d 310 (S.D.N.Y. 2008); Fisher v. Dees, 794 F.2d 432 (9th Cir. 1986); Elsmere Music, Inc. v. Nat’l Broad. Co., 482 F. Supp. 741 (S.D.N.Y.), aff’d, 632
F.2d 252 (2d Cir. 1980).

Yet these fair use benefits only accrue when the analysis is predictable, consistent, and respectful of the underlying existing copyright incentives for original creation. Under such market conditions, independent creators nearly always stand ready to license their works at a fair market rate to those who respect their rights. This is how fair use works effectively within the creative industries. On the other hand, the more amorphous and unreasonably expansive the analysis and application of the fair use doctrine, the harder it becomes to establish the value of the copyrighted work during licensing negotiations that are the lifeblood of the creative ecosystem.

In the modern music business, such licensing negotiations are intricate and delicate. The exclusive rights guaranteed by the U.S. Copyright Act have allowed independent songwriters, recording artists and labels to contract with distributors such as Audiam, CD
Baby, INgrooves, Merlin Network, The Orchard and TuneCore. These aggregators in turn sublicense collectively to interactive, on-demand digital delivery services like Amazon Music, Apple Music, Deezer, iTunes, Google Play Music, Pandora, and Spotify in return for royalties that the aggregators pay to their songwriter or artist licensees.

SoundExchange, for example, administers the limited statutory performance license for
noninteractive exploitations of sound recordings. See 17 U.S.C. § 114. Through this statutory scheme, SoundExchange oversees the statutory license of sound recordings used by many noninteractive services such as Pandora, SiriusXM, iHeart Radio and other Internet radio services as well as business establishments. Meanwhile, performing rights organizations like ASCAP, BMI, Global Music Rights and SESAC collectively license the public performance of the corresponding compositions.

Artists and songwriters rely on this intricate market system of licensing that is entirely based on the exclusive rights of copyright owners and the traditionally reasonable application of the fair use doctrine. These market practices have, over the past two decades, undergone a metamorphosis, as new customs evolved in the digital age, emerging once again into a predictable licensing landscape. The exclusive rights that independents enjoy as copyright owners allow them to compete with the licensing, distribution and marketing operations of major labels and music publishers—when those rights are respected.

And that is where Google’s seemingly perpetual campaign for fair use expansion becomes a major hindrance in the equitable and efficient functioning of
the marketplace.

[To be continued]

The Fair Use Industries: Supreme Court Brief of @davidclowery, @helienne, @theblakemorgan and @sgawrites in Google v. Oracle

Google’s appeal of its major loss to Oracle on fair use is shaping up to be the most important copyright case of the year, if not the decade.  It could set fair use standards for years to come.  We’re going to be posting installments of the friend of the court brief that David, Helienne, Blake and The Songwriters Guild filed in the U.S. Supreme Court supporting Oracle in the Google v. Oracle fair use case.  You can read the whole brief here.

Cover Page

Cover Page of Friend of the Court Brief

Independent creators rely on copyright protection to safeguard their works. This is true not just of songwriters and composers, but of countless creators, including recording artists, photographers, filmmakers, visual artists, and software developers. Copyright is,
in fact, of existential importance to such creators, who would be utterly lacking in market power and the ability to earn their livings without it.

Google’s business model is a prime example of the need for strong copyright protection. Since Google’s founding, Amici have experienced, observed and believe that Google has used its unprecedented online footprint to dictate the terms of the market for creative works.  By tying together a set of limited exceptions and exclusions within the U.S. Copyright Act and analogous laws in other countries, and then advocating for the
radical expansion of those exceptions, Google has amplified its own market power to the great detriment of copyright owners. Thus, where fair use is meant to be a limited defense to infringement founded on the cultural and economic good for both creators and the public, Google has throttled it into a business model: what its amicus brazenly refers to as the bedrock on which rests the fictitious “fair use industries.”

There is no shortage of amici exhorting this Court to weigh carefully the implications of this case’s fair use issues, and their resolutions. Amici today simply join the chorus of those seeking to illustrate Google’s longstanding pattern of integrating willful copyright
infringement into its business model. Google does so, as it did here, by advocating for fair use exceptions so broad as to include its wholesale, verbatim copying of Oracle’s declaring code and structure without a license.  Google’s flagrant disregard of original expression in order to make a larger profit—by taking without authority the works belonging to others—compromises any argument that its use is non-commercial,
transformative, or in any sense “fair.”

Accordingly, the Federal Circuit was correct in finding that the nature and purpose of Google’s unlicensed use of Oracle’s code and program organization was to create a commercial substitute in the form of Android. It is abundantly clear that this
unauthorized substitution is not in the public interest. Here, Google’s claim to be, “promoting software innovation” is just a code word for promoting Google’s
interest in extracting higher profit margins out of the pockets of creators. Given that its interest in doing so is antithetical to incentives to create original works, finding fair use would clearly not serve the constitutional and statutory purposes of copyright.

[Tomorrow: Independent Artists and Songwriters rely on copyright protection and clear fair use standards to defend themselves in the market.]

TikTok Gets an NMPA Special Out the Back Door as the FBI Comes in the Front Door


A Friend in Need

It’s becoming more apparent with each passing day that TikTok is about to get shut down by the U.S. Government for any one of a variety of crimes like it has been in India and other countries.  Which means that they are a perfect candidate for an “NMPA Special” which is where a handful of insiders decide on the terms and a pool of money is paid by the infringer to the NMPA for what amounts to a promise not to sue the infringer by the insiders and whatever useful idiots the NMPA can get to opt in to their deal.  (Or at least the deal they tell you about–and remember that some running dogs are more equal than others.)

Then some impenetrable claiming portal is set up for the average dog to “claim” a share of a revenue pool they had nothing to do with negotiating while being forced to give up any rights to sue (because the last thing that the NMPA wants is getting shown up again by a David Lowery, Melissa Ferrick, Randall Wixen or anyone represented by Richard Busch), and then the money just kind of disappears.  The amount of the pool is always so low it makes you wonder if that’s all there is, but in any event it has a distorting effect on the market place to drive down the rates paid to songwriters.

In a world where Cox Communications, a stupid but largely legitimate company, pays $1 billion for copyright infringement on a handful of copyrights, TikTok should pay $1 billion to get a meeting.  And if the FBI is right that TikTok is a front for the Chinese Communist Party, they could easily pay $1 billion for a meeting.  Anyone want to bet the over/under that the NMPA settlement is less than $1 billion?

How much the NMPA gets to keep out of the gross on the front end or the unclaimed after the claiming period expires is never disclosed and as you will see, the NMPA deal with TikTok, like all other NMPA deals, only applies to NMPA members.  So if you want to participate, you most likely will have to join the NMPA and pay a fee (sometimes based on market share).  And as came up in The MLC designation, The NMPA members may have a large market share of revenue but not necessarily on the number of songs.

Here’s the twist:  TikTok has no way to track what music has been used, much less account for it.   TikTok has no Content-ID type technology or control over what music is used so has no way to count or monitor what uses are made of which songs. So unless that gets fixed,  it’s a bit unclear exactly what you would be claiming from the NMPA’s claiming portal  Based on the NMPA’s YouTube and Spotify settlement portals, this one is almost certainly going to be absolute shite.

So what is the deal?  According to MusicAlly:

The deal “accounts for TikTok’s past use of musical works and sets up a forward-looking partnership” according to the announcement.

“This new partnership will give NMPA members the ability to opt-in to a licensing framework that allows them to benefit from their works included on TikTok and is effective retroactively as of May 1, 2020.

The deal comes a day after TikTok announced a licensing deal with independent distributor Believe, and its TuneCore subsidiary.

“We are pleased to find a way forward with TikTok which benefits songwriters and publishers and offers them critical compensation for their work,” said NMPA boss David Israelite.

“Music is an important part of apps like TikTok which merge songs with expression and popularise new music while also giving new life to classic songs. This agreement respects the work of creators and gives them a way to be paid for their essential contributions to the platform.”

That might be true–but remember, there’s nothing in it for anyone who is not an NMPA member.  And a lot of people are not NMPA members regardless of what they tell judges.  So what happens to the great unwashed who are not NMPA members?  Unclear, but NMPA has likely set the market rate for TikTok settlements, so unless you plan on suing, they’ll just jam that deal down your throat.  Which works out well for TikTok.

But some lobbyist at TikTok has a friend when they are in need.

Is The MLC Updating the HFA Database?

The MLC announced an aspirational tool for publishers to confirm whether the MLC’s data is correct for their songs.  Apparently this is planned to be a quality control check for song metadata that The MLC has already acquired. As far as we can tell, the tool doesn’t actually exist yet.

VaporwareHere’s the press release language:

For Music Publishers, Administrators and CMOs: Data Quality Initiative (DQI)
The MLC created the Data Quality Initiative (DQI) to provide a streamlined way for music publishers, administrators and foreign collective management organizations (CMOs) to compare large schedules of their musical works’ data against The MLC’s data. Through the DQI, The MLC will provide participants with reports that highlight the discrepancies between the two sets of data so that they can more easily address those discrepancies and improve the quality of The MLC’s data.

The MLC has begun working directly with a number of music publishers and administrators to on-board them into the initiative. The MLC is also working with software vendors to help them enhance their platforms to enable users of their systems to participate in the initiative. The MLC looks forward to working with other music publishers, administrators, CMOs and software system vendors interested in participating in The MLC’s Data Quality Initiative.

“One of the biggest and most time-consuming challenges for music publishers, administrators and CMOs is checking the accuracy of their musical works’ data,” said Richard Thompson, CIO of The MLC. “We launched the Data Quality Initiative to help those parties increase the efficiency and effectiveness of this process. Participants in the initiative will be able to see where their musical works data does not match The MLC’s data, so that they can then take the necessary corrective action.”

Of course, The MLC has yet to permit songwriters (or anyone for that matter) to register their songs with The MLC at least not publicly.  Neither have they given anyone access to whatever data they actually have ingested–and still won’t with the DQI tools. When you use the DQI tool, you sit outside The MLC’s database and they give you “reports” so you may take “the necessary corrective action”.  At your own expense, of course.  You know, “Play Your Part On Your Dime to Keep Us Relevant.”

So if the goal of the Data Quality Initiative is for “The MLC [to] provide participants with reports that highlight the discrepancies between the two sets of data so that they can more easily address those discrepancies and improve the quality of The MLC’s data” we have to ask how did The MLC come to have any data to check for quality control in the first place?

Chances are pretty good that the source of The MLC’s data set is the Harry Fox Agency–if they’ve even bothered to copy the HFA data into The MLC’s database.  (One reason they send you a “report” is so the source of that report is not disclosed as if it were just the HFA database being queried, it might raise some hackles among songwriters and especially the DLC who is paying millions for the whole show.)

As has been noted, The MLC’s Richard Thompson announced that The MLC was working with HFA since The MLC was first designated by the Copyright Office as the MLC. (even before they announced that HFA was their vendor)  This is the HFA that services Spotify.  Spotify has been sued…ahem…a number of times for failures to license songs in historic litigation that led to their latest get-out-of-jail-free goal-post-moving exercise also known as the Music Modernization Act.  In fact, HFA is currently being sued alongside Spotify by Eminem’s publishers for all sorts of nasty things (which have yet to be proved).  But make no mistake, HFA was picked as best of breed by everyone’s favorite MLC, The MLC.

So what The MLC is really saying here is that they want everyone to take the time to check your own data against the HFA database and then correct it.  And who wants to bet that all those corrections–which could be a vast number of corrections and song-share updates–will end up back at HFA for HFA to use as it chooses (or its Rumblefish affiliate).

Play Your Part for HFA

But wait, there’s more.  Don’t forget:  The reason for this exercise in data cleaning is to “improve the quality of The MLC’s data“.  Why do you care about the quality of The MLC’s data? Very simple.  The government makes you do it.  What could be worse than a compulsory license?  A compulsory license with a safe harbor for massive infringers like Spotify and an industry-wide market share black box controlled by the for-profit companies that most benefit from the market share black box.

So what The MLC is really saying is “play your part” to “improve the quality of The MLC’s data” or we will take your money and there’s sweet F-all that you can do about it.  In the middle of a global pandemic.  The truth doesn’t read quite so well, right?  Oh, and by the way–you get to pay the costs of this data clean up job yourself even though it’s for the benefit of The MLC.  And why are you compelled to cover those costs?

Because they’ll take your compulsory royalties if you don’t.  And given the way these people work, maybe even if you do.  How would you ever know?

But wait, there’s still more.  Remember that the Eminem publisher’s case is about Spotify’s failure to match properly which is a condition of the MMA safe harbor that somebody decided was a good idea for the rest of us.  Let’s say that those publishers are wrong and that the services have actually been matching like crazy to keep their safe harbor (albeit in the background because the sainted MMA does not have any oversight or transparency about matching).

We don’t believe this, of course.  But let’s just say that they’re wrong for argument’s sake.

If The MLC got their data from the services instead of from HFA, then presumably all that matching being done by the biggest tech companies in human history would probably result in a greater match rate than HFA–particularly since HFA has been at the heart of many, many lawsuits against their clients for failing to match.  Let’s face it–many, many publishers have already burned a huge amount of energy fixing Google’s weak Content Management System alone.  Want to bet that CMS has a higher match rate than HFA?

So we don’t think that the song data that is being checked so you can “Play Your Part On Your Dime” is from anywhere but HFA.  We also think that if no one stops them, The MLC will simply hand over all those corrections to HFA for use in its own database for unrelated clients, such as for bundled performance licenses.  And who benefits from that besides HFA?  If you said the publishers with direct deals on services that engage HFA or Rumblefish to handle their licensing,  you probably would not be too far wrong.

Remember this?

Facebook Inc. has engaged HFA’s Rumblefish services to offer to publishers the opportunity to enter into a direct license agreement with Facebook for Facebook, Instagram, Messenger and Oculus. This opportunity is available to all publishers.

This license agreement will grant Facebook Inc. reproduction, display, synchronization, and public performance rights. As an HFA Affiliate you have already authorized HFA to act on behalf of your publisher with respect to licensing offers for the rights mentioned above other than performance, which means we need your written permission to accept this offer on your behalf.

So be sure to fire up that credit card and “Play Your Part”.  And be quick about it.  Your betters are waiting.

Guest Post: Follow the Money: YouTube’s Failure to Pay Retroactively Gives “Conversion Rate” a Whole New Meaning

[Cross-posted from MusicTechPolicy]

by Chris Castle


A performance metric one hears from the digerati is the term “conversion rate.”   “Conversion rate” for a streaming service usually means the rate at which users of an ad-supported free service are “converted” to paying users.  That motivation is usually because they are so fed up with the advertising they are willing to pay.  (This was one of the many failed pitches from Spotify before people stopped trying to justify hanging on until the IPO riches flowed in.)

YouTube, of course, has never been too terribly interested in anything that moves users away from advertising.  That resistance (and potential internal competition between the massive ad sales team and the ever changing YouTube managers), may explain the many failed efforts at launching a YouTube subscription service by a company that knows more about user behavior than anyone in history.  They just couldn’t seem to get it right for the longest time.  You don’t suppose that YouTube’s apparent lack of interest in getting large numbers of users to substitute away from free to subscription was because YouTube made a lot more money from the ads than they ever would from the subscriptions?

One of the ways that YouTube (and Google) makes money from advertising is by taking money that is not theirs to take (sometimes called “monetizing” content).  The civil law calls that act a claim of “conversion” and   the criminal law calls it the crime of “theft”.  Conversion and theft are two sides of the same coin and often one implies the other, albeit with different burdens of proof.


YouTube’s Content ID tool is a way for copyright owners to block or permit advertising on user-generated content that includes their copyrights, often music.  Users of Content ID will tell you that it works just well enough that Google can say it is an effective tool, but even with Content ID music still gets through (and is often monetized by YouTube) for a variety of reasons.  This requires time consuming and costly manual searches.  Companies like AdRev make it a bit easier, but are essentially third party Content ID users.  These companies are compensated with a commission on infringing works they find on YouTube that they convert–there’s that word again–from infringing to monetized, which means that YouTube now splits the advertising revenue with the copyright owners who in turn split their share with an AdRev.

But see what happened there?  If you have Content ID, you can block on the upload some of the time, or you can do a search.  If you don’t have Content ID (see Maria Schneider’s class action) then you can’t block on the upload only chase the infringements manually.  But quite rightly from an economic perspective, companies like AdRev are not that interested in doing that work on a rev share basis if there’s no rev share when you block.

Here’s the point–you have a property right in your copyright.  You have a property right to license that copyright.  Any revenue derived from exploitations of that copyright is your money.  YouTube uses its monopoly power to impose a deal to monetize your copyright (under duress, of course, due to whack a mole DMCA).  That deal involves a revenue share.  (Let’s just assume you decide to take the King’s shilling and accept Google’s deal under duress which you shouldn’t have to do and which may not even be enforceable.)

The question is, when should that revenue share attach–when they start exploiting your copyright in violation of your property rights or when you catch them doing it.  And if (1) you catch them violating your property rights and (2) agree to monetize, when should they pay you your agreed upon share of the revenue from monetizing?  Should they pay retroactively to the first exploitation?  Or only prospectively after you catch them?

The correct answer is they should pay retroactively.  But they don’t.  They just keep the money.  For millions of infringements.  And they get away with it because of their monopoly power, which leaves one choice most artists won’t make, which is to sue them like Maria has.

Remember–Content ID operates largely like any other fingerprinting tool.  (Psychoacoustic fingerprinting is old technology–remember Jonesy in “The Hunt for Red October”?  That’s fingerprinting.  A “fingerprint” is simply a mathematical rendering of the waveform of an audio file.)

There is a reference databases of recordings that are “known knowns” (which is why it is important to be included in the Content ID database as Maria Schneider correctly points out in her class action.)  The fingerprinting tool encounters a new file, takes a fingerprint, then looks for a match in the reference database and reports a result that triggers an action.  Typically, fingerprinting tools are binary:  match or no match.  What happens after the tool finds a match is entirely in the control of the operator.  (So while the tool could have a match rate of 90%, the operator could report a random number of matches or a fixed number of matches, like one every ten, or one every 1000.  That means 90% accuracy could turn into a much lesser percentage of reported matches.  It’s important to know how many matches trigger an action.)

Having had some experience with audio fingerprints, I think you will find that once a fingerprint is in the reference database, the recognition tool (Content ID in this case) will spot the reference fingerprint a very, very high percentage of the time.  The fingerprinting tool I’m most aware of caught matches over 90% of the time.  I can’t imagine that a tool developed by the biggest technology company in commercial history would do less–unless they wanted it to.  Remember, this is not taking into account re-records unless the re-record is itself in the database, or pitch bends.  This is an exact match which is very common use of Content ID.  (See Maria’s class action complaint, and Kerry Muzzey has a great description of this in his recent Senate testimony.)

If Content ID is actually missing matches to known knowns on the upload (assuming exact matching is possible), I find it very odd that Content ID is missing much.  Maybe it’s not, but one way to find out is to force Google to reveal the inner workings through discovery in the class action case.

But if Content ID does miss exact matches, it would be interesting to know what percentage of those misses end up being monetized, and of those, what percentage end up getting caught later by a subsequent use of Content ID or a manual investigative process.  This will give an idea of the scale of the retroactive payment issue.

As Maria rightly points out, it is virtually impossible for an artist or film maker without Content ID to catch YouTube monetizing infringing works.  But I think the analysis has to go a step further–even if you have Content ID, at the moment you catch YouTube monetizing illegal versions, you are in no different position than the artist who lacks access to the Content ID tool.

Both have the same problem–YouTube is profiting from illegal copies.  If when you catch them you then elect to monetize, YouTube will pay you going forward, i.e., prospectively.  But I do not believe they will pay you retroactivelyfor the illegal use.  (There is a rumor that some music publishers do get paid retroactively under some settlement, but that needs to be confirmed.)

That means that YouTube is directly profiting from piracy for the retroactive views which could total into the hundreds of millions per day given the massive number of daily views on YouTube.  If you elect to monetize due to YouTube’s monopoly power, you are essentially releasing them from liability under duress.  If you catch them.

So YouTube takes your property, monetizes it, and refuses to pay you for how much they made before you caught them if you ever do catch them.  They dare you to sue them because you would be taking on the biggest company in commercial history that controls 90% of the access to information in the world and routinely defies governments.  Not everyone has the spine of Maria Schneider.

Failing to license at all or failing to pay retroactively means that YouTube profits from piracy by converting your property to their own.  And as Maria rightly points out, Google scrapes user data through non-display uses in the background even if YouTube is not monetizing overtly which they then use to compile user profiles in “millions of buckets” (which dribbled out before Judge Koh in the Gmail litigation (In Re: Google, Inc. Gmail Litigation,  Case No. 13-MD-02430-LHK, (U.S.D.C. N.D. California, San Jose Division, Sept. 26, 2013)).

In either case, the value of the amount converted or stolen should rightly include the value of these user profiles scraped in the background, as well as the advertising revenue.

And don’t forget that Google is controlled by Larry Page, Sergei Brin, and Eric Schmidt through their “supervoting” shares of stock.  It’s hard to believe that this YouTube policy was created without their blessing.

The simplest move for Google would be to simply pay both retroactively and (if the copyright owner elects to monetize) prospectively.  Otherwise, it seems like a huge number of crimes are going on in a very planned and organized way dreamed up by YouTube and Google employees.  “Dreamed up” is also called a conspiracy, and if there’s an actual conspiracy it’s not a theory (which came up in an interesting trade secret misappropriation RICO case against Google they managed to wriggle out of, at least for the moment).

The law has another word for organized theft at scale–we sometimes call it “racketeering.”