The New York Times reports that a company called Rumblefish is partnering with YouTube to license songs to amateur video artists for use in noncommercial videos at $1.99 each. At the moment, they do not represent any major labels, though they are hoping to expand (don’t hold your breath, given the difficulties the major labels have had with most new business models).
While this idea certainly has the potential to be beneficial for vidders and other remix artists, and the price is comparable to a ringtone or higher-quality download, this isn’t the solution: the license Rumblefish and YouTube are offering doesn’t allow users to remix, mash up, speed up, slow down, alter or translate lyrics or do lots of other things that vidders and other remix artists routinely do; all you can do is cut the length of the song. Also, you are only permitted to stream your video, and only at authorized sites like YouTube; you can’t offer your vid for download, or stream from your own site. Moreover, the licence stipulates that your use:
must not be pornographic, promote hate or violence, must not be libelous, defamatory, fraudulent, infringing or otherwise illegal, and must not involve criticism of Friendly Music, Rumblefish, UGC Network, or any of their products or services.
And of course they get to decide what is okay and what isn’t. (Doesn’t that make you want to make an anti-Rumblefish political remix right now?)
While this service might be useful for makers of home movies and amateur films who just want to add a soundtrack to their child’s birthday party or high school graduation, transformative works like vids, anime music videos, and political remix videos are not using music as a soundtrack. In these transformative works, the music is a crucial part of the message, and the message is a form of speech.
This seems like an attempt by Rumblefish and YouTube to charge noncommercial video makers for fewer rights than they already have. In fact, it’s interesting that Rumblefish and YouTube are trying to create a market to license songs to amateur video makers just as laws like Canada’s Copyright Modernization Act are proposing the legalization of noncommercial remix – but only if it doesn’t aversely affect “an existing or potential market.” Minimalist licenses for some songs, no matter how affordable, can’t substitute for fair use.