Several years ago I persuaded my record company to let me begin posting my master recording files on nin.com, in order to see what kind of user-generated content would materialize from my music. I had no agenda… the main reason I did it was because I thought it was cool and something I would have liked to do if it was available to me. A lot of really fun stuff started to happen….communities developed, web sites were created, even traditional radio got in the game and began playing the fans’ mixes. I felt the experiment, despite not having a specific purpose, was a success. So much so that we’re now releasing a remix album that includes some of this fan-created material as well as the actual multitrack master files for every song from my latest record, Year Zero.
One piece was missing to me and that was an official nin.com presence for aggregating all of the fan-created remixes. Several intrepid fans had stepped up and done a great job providing a destination for people to post these, but I felt all along this was a function I should more directly support. So, upon release of this new remix album, our plan has been to launch an official site on nin.com that would provide a place for all fan remix material and other interactive fan experiences.
Or so I thought.
On Saturday morning I became aware of a legal hitch in our plans. My former record company and current owner of all these master files, Universal, is currently involved in a lawsuit with other media titans Google (YouTube) and News Corp (MySpace). Universal is contending that these sites do not have what is referred to as “safe harbor” under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, and therefore are in copyright violation because users have uploaded music and video content to that is owned by Universal. Universal feels that if they host our remix site, they will be opening themselves up to the accusation that they are sponsoring the same technical violation of copyright they are suing these companies for. Their premise is that if any fan decides to remix one of my masters with material Universal doesn’t own – a “mash-up”, a sample, whatever – and upload it to the site, there is no safe harbor under the DMCA (according to Universal) and they will be doing exactly what MySpace and YouTube are doing. This behavior may get hauled out in court and impact their lawsuit. Because of this they no longer will host our remix site, and are insisting that Nine Inch Nails host it. In exchange for this they will continue to let me upload my Universal masters and make them available to fans, BUT shift the liability of hosting them to me. Part of the arrangement is having user licenses that the fans sign (not unlike those on MySpace or You Tube) saying they will not use unauthorized materials. Universal has even asked me to sign something saying it’s OK with me for them to sue ME. I then asked them if it was OK with them if I sued myself as well. They’re getting back to me on that.
While I am profoundly perturbed with this stance as content owners continue to stifle all innovation in the face of the digital revolution, it is consistent with what they have done in the past. So… we are challenged at the last second to find a way of bringing this idea to life without getting splashed by the urine as these media companies piss all over each other’s feet. We have a cool and innovative site ready to launch but we’re currently scratching our heads as to how to proceed.
More to come….
By the way, the potential implications of a lawsuit like this one go well beyond creating hurdles for a Nine Inch Nails remix site. Here is an excerpt from technology site Ars Technica regarding a similar lawsuit Viacom has filed against YouTube:
The DMCA’s Safe Harbor provisions aren’t just important to video sharing sites; they’re important to almost every sector of Internet-based business.
“Nearly every major Internet company depends on the very same legal foundation that YouTube is built on,” said von Lohmann. “A legal defeat for YouTube could result in fundamental changes to its business, potentially even making it commercially impossible to embrace user-generated content without first ‘clearing’ every video. In other words, a decisive victory for Viacom could potentially turn the Internet into TV, a place where nothing gets on the air until a cadre of lawyers signs off,” he said. “More importantly, a victory for Viacom could potentially have enormous implications for Yahoo, eBay, Amazon, MySpace, and many other Internet companies, because they all rely on the same DMCA Safe Harbors to protect many facets of their businesses, as well. The stakes are high all around.”
posted by Trent Reznor at 3:24 pm