Rick Beato is one of the most famous music teachers on YouTube, but his instructional videos keep getting demonetized. The reason? Fair use of copyrighted material. He hasn’t mounted a significant challenge to any of these copyright claims because he is afraid of being removed from the video-sharing platform. It is easy to blame this power abuse on big corporations. Still, they are only exploiting the law to maximize their profit, even if it means pickpocketing music instructors.
In the heydays, when music was printed on dead trees, legislators created copyright laws that protected creators from theft. However, they wisely recognized that a work of art must be animated by a mind to have any value.
In Lockean terms, one must mix one’s mental labor with the music to make it exist. That is impossible without making the music a part of your soul. Unlike a screwdriver that you can use and discard, a melody sticks in your mind whether you want it to or not. It spreads, inspires, fuses with thoughts, and becomes part of everyday life and culture.
For this reason, legislators recognized that any copyright needs to expire, and there must be a way for people to make use of the work of art in public without being chained by copyright laws. Therefore, they made provisions for fair use. You can quote a novel, article, piece of music, or other form of intellectual property for educational purposes, parody, and cultural commentary without restrictions or paying royalties.
Fast-forward to the internet era. Napster exploded onto the world scene in 1999 and industrialized piracy, leaving content creators robbed by millions of people who consumed their products without paying a dime.
Two decades later, YouTube now has algorithms for automatically identifying when someone uses a copyrighted song. It is almost a great system that gets rid of piracy and protects musicians. There is just one tiny problem: Corporations have hijacked the legal system. They systematically violate fair use provisions because they can get away with it. They are big, and most YouTubers are small.
However, Beato is big enough to make a fuss. He is an industry veteran, and millions of people follow his lectures on what makes songs great. Whenever quoting a song in his videos, he instantly gets demonetized. All the revenues go to the song owner, even if Beato only plays a few seconds of the songs.
The teacher had not complained about it until recently when he played the chord progression of a well-known song on his guitar, without singing and without a melody. The video got demonetized. Beato challenged the decision, but his claim was rejected instantly. If he continues to challenge and loses, he will get a copyright strike. With three strikes, YouTube will ban his channel.
With globalism also came the era of big corporations that, in practice, act as free-roaming states – global privateers. Rather than having soldiers with guns and tanks, they have armies of lawyers and lobbyists who hijack the legal system and turn the very laws meant to protect citizens against them.
It is tempting to blame capitalism for this abusive behavior, but corporations are just doing whatever they can get away with within the law to make a profit. Slavery is illegal in the United States, so corporations legally outsource slave labor to China.
Information Bill of Rights
The only way to eliminate such corporate abuse is through good laws that are adequately enforced. In the case of intellectual property, one solution could be an Information Bill of Rights. The purpose is to make it explicit who holds the burden of evidence.
In the case of the First Amendment, all speech is, by default, legal. It is up to those who wish to limit speech to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that it is a form of violation. An Information Bill of Rights could explicate the default handling of information rights. For instance, any limited quotation of intellectual property should, by default, be fair use. Unless those limits are exceeded, such as playing more than, say, 30 seconds of a song, it should be a legal hassle for anyone to claim a copyright strike.
The information age has upset many well-established practices and rendered old laws irrelevant or out of date. It may be time to update capitalism to get rid of corporate abuse.
Read more from Caroline Adana.