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Op-Ed: Labels, Tech Companies Must Relax Copyright Notices On Live Streams

Labels and tech platforms need to allow live streams to carry on, unabated, with live music shuttered to contain Coronavirus.

Unless you have been off the internet for the past few weeks, you have an idea of what has happened around the world. Coronavirus and its illness COVID-19 have ravaged the world, killing over 16,800 people and sickening over 380,000 (though that number is likely much higher). Among other economic damage, nightlife and the live music business has all but shut down. People are being quarantined and told to stay indoors to help slow the spread of the virus. This has led to musicians of all stripes, especially DJs, taking their performances online, streaming on Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, Twitch and anywhere else that will have them. While live streaming should be pretty straight forward if you have the right equipment, there are other considerations for everyone involved – notably copyright.

The digital copyright ecosystem was already pretty broken before Coronavirus. Now we are seeing just how ill equipped it is for so many live streams. We have been hosting streams on our Facebook over the past few days and have been getting hit with copyright notices on streams by Warner, Universal and Sony. It shouldn’t be all that surprising to see this. In boom times, artists get copyright notices for songs they own on YouTube and SoundCloud, causing all sorts of confusion and taking music away from fans. In crisis, when artists are scrapping to make ends meet and teams are pared down in response, more mistakes will be made.

Now that DJs are being forced to live stream from their kitchens, living rooms or balconies, we need to find a way to make sure they can do that without having accounts suspended or removed over copyright infringement. Just like during an actual club set, the DJs shouldn’t be worried about whether or not they have clearance to play a certain released song. That kills creativity and ruins the craft. Instead Facebook, Google and other companies, along with labels, need to relax their copyright protections on artists doing live streams. 

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It should be simple to differentiate between live streams and regular video posts. The live streams could be whitelisted by the tech platforms and labels with the ability to monetize after we have contained COVID-19. Nobody likes unnecessary copyright notices, but they are worse now. This will only hurt fans and the DJs that these labels rely on for promotion, money and talent. We do want the artists who had their music played to get paid, however muting and taking down streams over one song is extreme and doesn't benefit anyone in the short or long term.

Keep the streams live in full or risk a backlash that will last well beyond the next few months. Everyone is sacrificing right now, some more than others. The labels can sacrifice a few copyright claims on live videos, especially since their revenues will be fine compared to the live music business.

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