One could say that art and creativity are what fuels our progressive society today. Sure, there are people needed to maintain organization and structure, but without innovation we would be in the same place that we were in the 1400’s. Today, art is rapidly created and distributed, the most controversial art form that this applies to is music. Just about everyone and their mother listens to music at one point or another. With recent advances in technology, audio could be accessed from vinyl records, cassette tapes, CD’s, computers, iPods and, finally, to the internet. The internet may be the last place that music has become available but it will definitely not die there. This easy access to music has led to the numerous and rapid sharing of files in methods that range from frowned upon to straight-up illegal. Music is typically produced by creators, however, one attribute of this new and advanced music sharing has been the listener’s ability to become a creator as they can download music and remix it, edit or pretty much do whatever they want with it. The only problem is that most of these songs are copyrighted and the sharing of remixes that sample said material is considered illegal. Since the inception of remixing and electronic music, countless mediums have emerged to share these remixes and promote them around the online community. One of the most popular of these sharing sites is called Soundcloud. In my second paper, I want to discuss the ethical implications of copyrights and the future of music sharing in accordance with the financial performance and controversy surrounding Soundcloud.
The first part of the essay will discuss Soundcloud’s business practices. Soundcloud is an online company that operates out of Berlin, Germany. It was founded in 2007 with the idea for less popular musicians, and ultimately, all users to generate and upload music. The controversy begins when it was revealed that the majority of Soundcloud’s uploaded music (about 110 million of 175 million songs) is either remixed, mashed up or bootlegged. Soundcloud was created as an outlet for artists to connect with fans. However, record labels soon caught up to Soundcloud. In 2014 it was revealed that Universal Music Group has the rights to remove any audio file on Soundcloud even if the uploading user had paid to promote and upload that track. Further difficulties emerged as many artists tracks began to mysteriously disappear from their profiles. Since most of the remixed content samples a copyrighted song, it is technically illegal. An artist who posts an hour long mix that they may have recorded in a club is subject to the copyright constraints of the record label. This is where things get complicated; in order for the label to be paid for royalties and licensing someone needs to determine how long their song was sampled. In some instances an artist merely samples one note from an old song and remixes it into something completely different. In an effort to address concerns regarding copyright and licensing fees, Soundcloud is rapidly vamping up its revenue model to account for the vast amount of copyrighted material that is shared on the site. Most recently, they introduced a paid subscription service (allegedly the result of pressure from major record labels). As part of this new rollout they have introduced a new software that browses through uploaded tracks and mixes and is able to pinpoint specific songs and how long they have been used for in an effort to pay royalties to the original artist.
Another issue to be highlighted is that Soundcloud has recorded losses in the tens of millions for the last few years of operations. Some due in part to court settlements but some due to its lack of income. With the release of its subscription service it will be interesting to see where the company ends up. Looking to the history of the fates of similar services, the outcome is not all positive. Sites like Napster and Grooveshark have suffered greatly from record label pressure.
From multiple ethical perspectives I will analyze how Soundcloud, its users and record labels are justified in paying and charging royalties. As well, I hope to highlight how music has changed since many of these copyrights were put into effect. There was nothing like what Soundcloud is today just 10 years ago so perhaps it is time for a change in the way that copyright works. Another ethical dilemma regarding Soundcloud is not with the company itself but with the record labels that lay claim to many of the tracks posted. A majority of the time that Soundcloud is charged for “artist royalties” and “copyright infringement,” the proceeds go straight to the record labels and are never seen by the artists. In today’s world of quickly evolving technology it may not be possible for the music industry to operate how it currently does.
Please let me know if the case does not sound specific enough as I know I can find more specific cases related to copyright infringement. I chose Soundcloud because I have been using the site for the last 8 years habitually and I am curious about the implications that its policies have for users and distributors of audio. The main idea of the essay is to use Soundcloud as a case study of how advanced our music sharing capabilities have become and to analyze, through ethical perspectives, whether or not this advancement has outpaced our current copyright standards.