Anything (Someone Else Does) for a Dollar

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Bandcamp Bought By Fortnite Maker Epic Games (Spin via yahoo.com)

I’d been looking forward to this month’s Bandcamp Friday for a while. The fact that Bandcamp has been willing to forgo its usual fees for selling music in order to assist independent musicians, who have been even more likely to suffer serious problems due to the pandemic than musicians with record deals, was a cool enough thing to start with, but I’ve been making an effort this year to give even more to independent artists. I had a lot of classes to teach last year due to pandemic-related retirements, and I was finally able to pay off some debts I’d racked up in the last years of Mom’s life (and as I struggled to get back on my feet after her passing, including the two cross-country moves I had to do there), so I’ve been buying both artwork and music for my Twitch channel these past couple of months. Being able to finally give back like that feels really good, and even if my streaming is just a hobby for me, I still like the idea of helping expose artists to a slightly wider audience while supporting them financially.

Because not every artist on Bandcamp releases their music under Creative Commons licences, though, I have to do some “scouting” ahead of time to make sure that the music I want to buy can be used on my channel. I don’t want to use music that isn’t licenced for “remixing” in that way, and even if I tried to use that kind of music, the automated services that monitor Twitch (and other Internet services) for existing audio/video content would probably flag any such attempts in a hurry, putting me in deep trouble. As a result, I take some time during the rest of the month to track down good music that I can legally use on my Twitch channel, and then I wait until those Bandcamp Friday specials to buy the music, making sure that the musicians get even more money than they would otherwise.

When I got ready to start buying music this past Bandcamp Friday, though, I got stopped dead in my tracks after I called up the list of artists whose work I wanted to look at. A note on one of the songs I’d tracked down on another service said that another person had claimed the song as their own, and that the original artist was so tired of fighting these claims that instead of continuing to leap through all kinds of hoops to prove that their music was, in fact, their own, and instead of trying to prove that the song I’d wanted to buy was theirs, they were giving up on publishing music on the Internet altogether. The rigmarole just wasn’t worth it for them.

This isn’t the first time I’ve run into this kind of problem. I’ve had a couple of my Twitch streams flagged for unlicenced music in the past, and every time this has happened to me, a third party has filed a copyright claim on music that someone else had released on the Internet for free. This is such a widespread problem that some musicians, like Scott Buckley (whose music I feature on my Twitch channel), even have to devote full webpages to listing the currently-known claims on their music. Even if I’ve played a song on my stream before without any problems, I know that there’s always a possibility of someone else trying to claim the song as their own, and putting me (and the musician) through hell just to prove that the third party is lying about the claim.

False claims about ownership of media are bad enough on their own, but the fact that so many people are targeting free-to-use music — works created by musicians who bypass the opportunity to make substantial money from a piece so they can help others — is sickening. It’s not like the potential to make a lot of cash from a successful false claim is that great, especially since the people who use this music in their own works are likely to not have that much money to start with, but that doesn’t seem to deter scammers from engaging in these activities. If anything, they seem to have gotten even more prevalent in recent months, forcing musicians who want to release low-cost or free music to register their songs with all kinds of monitoring services, then hope that one of these scammers doesn’t find a way to slightly alter their music files, submit them to the same databases, then try to file copyright claims on everyone they can.

With Bandcamp being bought by a company that’s already hip-deep into other areas that are infamous for scamming artists with false ownership claims — if you haven’t seen Dan Olson’s latest video yet, please do so as soon as you have the 138 minutes needed to get through the whole thing — the future of Bandcamp Fridays has already been called into question. Services like Bandcamp had already been a literal lifeline for musicians even before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, but they became even more vital when live music just wasn’t possible for so long there; it’s still not possible for musicians and their fans who have ongoing health issues, so a strong Bandcamp, or a service like it, remains incredibly important. As long as art scammers continue to have such an easy time harassing creators, though, more artists are likely to give up as well, because the process of putting their work out there — even for free — just won’t be worth the struggle. That means less art for all of us, and that’s a loss we shouldn’t have to put up with.

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