During the pandemic, classical musicians are reliant on streaming their performances to maintain their profile and solicit donations. That's a problem, because the platforms' copyright bots HATE classical music.


Once a record label like Sony Music or Naxos claims a performance that they have released, the bots scour the services for anything that sounds even remotely like that performance and either deletes it, mutes it, or steals the money it generates.


And on the platforms, users are considered guilty until proven innocent. An automated takedown is virtually instantaneous, while a human review that reverses it can take TWENTY EIGHT MONTHS.



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The fascinating thing about this is that it is entirely predictable. It's a known failure mode for filters. Either you narrow the matching so that they only catch precise matches (in which case they are easy to trick by making trivial changes) or...

...You broaden the matching, in which case they take down innocent musicians' own performances.


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The fact that they've chosen the latter tells you that this is not "copyright protection," because the musicians whose performances are removed are ALSO copyright holders.

Indeed, the majority of classical music copyright holders are not large companies like Naxos or Sony - they're the musicians whose performances Sony and Naxos have removed.

These filters are not for copyright protection: they're for CORPORATE protection.


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What do Naxos and Sony say? Duncan Hammons from Naxos blames the filters: "We’re at the mercy of automation in order to uphold our obligations to our clients."

Translation: Naxos chose not to manually review the filters' results, rather, they run the system on full autopilot, and anyone who gets censored in the process is an unavoidable consequence of Naxos's decision.


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He doesn't raise the possibility of making a different decision.

Instead, he proposes that Naxos can be in charge of who is allowed to make classical music even if they don't have a relationship with Naxos: "[arrangements can be made for channel owners to prove] the legitimacy of their status as a performing arts entity."

In March 2019, the EU passed its new Copyright Directive, whose Article 13 (now Article 17) mandates copyright filters like Facebook's for all platforms.


At the time, critics like me argued that this would allow giant entertainment corporations to decide when and whether an indie musician could perform online.

After all, these companies don't fear being trapped in the filternet: they have direct lines to the online appeals court. It's only the indie musicians who have to get in the queue to have the robot's judgment reviewed by a human, who might take 28 months to get to it.


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And of course, now that every online platform has to find the money to build these filters - Youtube's Contentid, which only does a tiny fraction of the filtering required, cost $100m - only the biggest tech players will remain.

So here we are, headed for a future in which only giant tech platforms are allowed to operate, and where giant media companies are given a veto over who can make art on those platforms.


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This is not a good situation for artists. Even if you want to sign to Sony or another label, the fact that Sony (and the other two giant labels) are the only game in town means that they will squeeze their talent, giving them less of the money their art generates.

Once, online platforms constituted an escape valve on this pressure-cooker, an alternative to the abusive label system. Now it is captured by them.


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“The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”


CC BY (modified):


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