Copyright Challenges To DJ Culture?

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March 23, 2011 by DJ Elroy

A few months ago, we wrote about how the super popular (and very useful) SoundCloud service implemented a copyright filter, which resulted in a bunch of DJs (who are some of the biggest users of SoundCloud) to have their work go missing. It’s not hard to figure out why SoundCloud put in place a filter. The entertainment industry has decided to pretend that copyright law in the US requires such a filter, to avoid falling afoul of the DMCA’s “red flag” clause. Yet, as many people have pointed out, if the DMCA was designed to require filters, it would have said so. Of course, because of this, many companies who host works have felt compelled to use filters, not just to avoid a lawsuit, but to keep the entertainment industry happy, because most of these companies want to work with the entertainment industry (contrary to the claims of some that these services just want to “ripoff” the entertainment industry).

However, there are all sorts of problems with these filters. Contrary to the claims of some, determining copyright infringement is not an easy call for humans, let alone computers. Computers, for example, have no algorithm to determine fair use. The end result is that the system defaults to blocking way too frequently, taking down works that are legitimate. David Collado points us to yet another example of this happening with SoundCloud. Apparently a DJ from Brussels, DJ Lowdjo, recently was listening to a lot of Turkish psychedelic rock, and noticed that American artists The Gaslamp Killer & Gonjasufi apparently copied a bunch of these same tracks, with very minor edits, on the album they released last year. Lowdjo tried to upload his own work, based on the same Turkish psychedelic rock songs… and it got blocked by SoundCloud’s copyright filter, claiming that the copyright on the song belonged to the Gaslamp Killer’s rightsholder, Milan Records.

Of course, Lowdjo’s work was similarly inspired from the same source, so the copyright claim seems questionable. But a computer apparently can’t make that distinction. Unfortunately, it appears SoundCloud also refused to respond to Lowdjo’s counternotice. Some argue that the DMCA requires companies to put works back online following a counternotice, while others point out that sites are free to refuse to put the works back up at their own discretion. At the very least, SoundCloud should have responded, though.

Either way, the situation is unfortunate for both SoundCloud and DJ culture. The supporters of filters will simply brush off DJ culture as if it doesn’t matter, or if it’s “just copying,” rather than any real art form, which is pretty insulting (as an aside, why is it that the folks who insist that copyright is needed to “defend culture” are always the first to mock any sort of culture they don’t like?). The reality is that DJ culture is an art form, whether people like it or not, and copyright law (and the way the entertainment industry interprets the law) is clearly getting in the way of that culture. SoundCloud, and other services pushed to install filters, are sort of caught in the middle of all of this, trying to stay on the right side of the law and appease the entertainment industry, while also helping DJ culture. At some point, something has to give.

This is not only a follow up to the original Soundcloud issue (which has kept me from signing up with them), but opens up another hotly debated issue: Is DJing an artform in itself?

I’d say yes. And no. This is a tough one, but it could go either way. Playing other peoples’ music back to back to back isn’t very creative (or hard). But programming a set, making the songs tell a story, that takes skill. Reading a crowd takes talent. If pissing in a jar with crucifix or hanging dildos from the ceiling can be considered art, I suppose DJing could, too…

But that was the old generation of DJ. Nowadays the disk jockey hat is interchangeable with that of the producer. DJs don’t just play music. They chop it up, re-order it, remix it, mash songs together, and sometimes completely rework the tunes to fit their own style. This is most definitely an art form. Right?

But are DJs really musicians? Producers, yes. Straight DJs? No.

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