In an ironic twist, YouTube has honored a request by hip hop producer Lord Finesse to remove a video in which Dan Bull, a songwriter, rapper and YouTube satirist, criticized the producer’s own copyright abuses.
The subject of Bull’s video (no longer available on YouTube) was Lord Finesse’s $10 million lawsuit against up-and-coming indie rapper Mac Miller, who sampled Finesse’s 1995 hit “Hip 2 Da Game” in his 2010 track “Kool Aid & Frozen Pizza.” However, a substantial part of the musical track to which Finesse lays claim is actually from Jazz musician Oscar Peterson’s 1971 recording “Dream of You.”
Bull did not mince words in his video schooling Lord Finesse: “Unauthorized sampling and remixing are an integral part of hip hop culture,” Bull pointed out in the track. But that lesson is not in the Digital Music Copyright Act textbook. Over the weekend, Finesse’s lawyers issued a copyright claim requesting that YouTube remove the clip.
In an eight-minute video about the takedown uploaded Sunday, Bull notes that no other videos sampling “Hip 2 Da Game” or “Dream of You” – not even Mac Miller’s – were issued copyright claims. Given the availability on YouTube of other videos featuring content to which Lord Finesse could potentially lay claim, Bull says “this makes it even more clear that my video wasn’t targeted for copyright reasons, but because it highlighted the hypocrisy of the lawsuit.”
Copyright laws in both the U.K. and U.S. make an allowance for “fair use” for the purposes of commentary or parody. Bull claims that his work qualified, as it was clearly both a parody and a commentary of Lord Finesse. Bull maintains he is legally (and morally, given hip hop’s history of appropriating pre-existing music) right in this situation, and that Finesse abused copyright law to censor him.
DMCA abuse is common given YouTube’s automation of copyright claims. The Google-owned site does not manually check for copyright infringement of the 72 hours of content uploaded every minute, so it simply agrees to take down contested clips. This automatic response, however, is easily co-opted by anyone from pranksters to angry ex-boyfriends eager to remove anything they desire, be it Justin Bieber’s music or embarrassing angry voicemails.
Normally when a video is removed due to a DMCA request, the uploader can file a counterclaim, although YouTube warns that counterclaim issuers must be “prepared to face a claimant in court.” In his follow-up video, Bull says that he has yet to issue a counter-claim because “frankly, I am a bit scared,” given Finesse’s $10 million lawsuit against Mac Miller.
Meanwhile, Web citizens angry at what they see as censorship on the Internet have taken to spreading Bull’s message, an example of the Streisand effect. To date, Bull’s “Michael Moore style” follow-up video of the DMCA takedown has been viewed 70 thousand times. In multiple Reddit threads – including one which hit the front page – audience members encourage Bull to sue Finesse, even offering him help by crowdfunding his expenses. “There needs to be a legal precedent set for cases like this to avoid future copyright claim abuse to censor the Internet,” wrote redditor and Machinima partner zBAWB.
On YouTube, dozens of users have taken to reuploading Bull’s removed video as an act of protest. “The whole point of reuploading this is to show that we won’t stand for that kind of bullshit censorship and misuse of copyright law,” wrote uploader oppstoppersnopp. “Dan has done nothing wrong, Mac has done nothing wrong, and we’re doing nothing wrong. We won’t be silenced.”