Exclusive: Warner Music Group Rep Sheds Light on MySpace Copyright Problems

Exclusive: Warner Music Group Rep Sheds Light on MySpace Copyright Problems
As recently reported, some independent bands, such as Winnipeg, MB's KEN Mode, have been fighting a copyright battle against the Warner Music Group for uploading songs they own to their MySpace profiles.

Now, Warner Canada's digital marketing manager, Rob Bolton, has chimed in to Exclaim! to explain why this has been happening sporadically to independent bands and labels who seemingly have no ties to the major label.

According to Bolton, if MySpace blocks a band's content and they get a message that their songs are the property of Warner Music Group, it means that a link to Warner exists somewhere in the system, whether it's direct ownership or a distribution arrangement with the label. In these cases, Warner and MySpace have set up a special "audio fingerprint," which can easily be cleared by the record company in cases where an independent label or band claims rightful ownership.

"If the band and label have no ties to Warner Music at all, then there would never be a MySpace block as 'Warner content,'" Bolton says. "The only way this is possible is if we acted as the digital distributor for the band or their label, either here in Canada or another country. Many bands might not be aware of this distribution model, especially outside their home country.

"As a result, anything we schedule through our digital system on their behalf - to sell on iTunes, for example - gets processed with all other Warner content. As part of this process, special audio fingerprints are created for all songs and used to ID unlicensed usage of Warner content on sites like MySpace. We do identify distributed, and not Warner-owned, content via label codes, but unfortunately that isn't filtered by MySpace when they use the fingerprints. This means it's a manual process between MySpace and Warner to clear all profiles that get mistakenly tagged as infringing by MySpace."

Bolton, who regularly works with independent labels and bands to clear their content on MySpace and other sites, says this is just the beginning of how intricate a system the digital coding is.

"There are many cases where Canadian indie bands/labels have no distribution relationship with Warner here in Canada, but they license their music to another indie label outside of Canada for sales and distribution there, and that label may use Warner's services in that country. For example, in the U.S., many indie labels use ADA for digital scheduling. Warner owns 95 percent of ADA and Sub Pop owns the other five percent, and they use our back-end systems, so, voila, content is tagged as Warner."

But Jesse Matthewson, guitarist/vocalist of KEN Mode, says he still doesn't understand how his band's previous label, Escape Artist Records, can be linked back to Warner, unless it has something to do with the label's former distribution company, Lumberjack Mordam, who recently filed bankruptcy.

"Escape Artist isn't distributed through Warner, or even a Warner owned company, at least to my knowledge," says Matthewson. "They don't have U.S. distribution at the moment, as when Lumberjack went down, their distro vanished. So I still fail to see the link between Escape Artist and Warner Music Group."

Bolton looked into the KEN Mode situation and came up with some possible answers. "I checked our system and Warner did indeed digitally distribute a KEN Mode album called Reprisal and two tracks in 2006, and nine tracks in 2003," he says. "Although I'm not sure why they're in there - maybe Lumberjack Mordam used ADA's services to get music to iTunes internationally, which would cause the Warner tag."

And while these hidden distribution links could explain why a lot of independent bands and labels are getting the Warner-blocked content messages from MySpace, despite having ownership of their songs, it doesn't explain what a band or label can do if their content does get blocked.

Bolton explains the best course of action: "If it's a Warner block, there is a direct email set up in the U.S. to make the request at [email protected], but if it's a Canadian artist [who can contact that same email address], they will check with me directly to confirm it's a distributed artist, and then it's cleared. This process is actually really quick and easy."

Recent changes at MySpace in Canada have made it more difficult to sort out content rights disputes, as Matthewson found out when he had MySpace dispute forms crashing on him repeatedly. But Bolton says, despite the cutbacks, Warner's relationship with MySpace is a strong one.

"MySpace unfortunately laid off a lot of people this past summer, including closing the entire Canadian office, so they do have challenges in terms of dealing with massive and detailed issues like content ID-ing within their music service," says Bolton. "Their U.S. team does their best to help all labels - majors and indies - deal with it, and for us it's a fairly routine process at this point. That said, if you're a band with no idea who to contact, I can see it being a confusing and frustrating thing to deal with."

Bolton says a filtering system to weed out songs by bands and labels that are merely distributed by Warner, and not owned by the company, would be the best solution to the problem, but it's something MySpace and Warner are still trying to figure out.

"The best thing would be to filter out the fingerprints that are coded as not Warner-owned, but distributed," he says. "It's not that easy though, especially when bands are licensed to different labels in Canada versus U.S.A. versus Europe, etc. It's basically an international database/licensing nightmare that we'd all love to figure out."