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Zoë Keating Versus Google Music Key

Posted on the 13 February 2015 by George De Bruin @SndChaser


Zoë Keating versus Google Music Key Zoe Keating Performing

If somehow over the last two weeks you haven’t read about Zoë Keating’s issues with the terms of the Google Music Key service, here’s a summary of the five major points (based on her original blog post What should I do about Youtube?):

  1. All of her catalog would be in both the free (ContentID) and premium (Music Key) music service.
  2. 3rd party uploads identified as containing her music (like fan videos) would be automatically included in the Music Key service.
  3. All songs will be set to “montetize”, meaning there will be ads on them. (Which, if she isn’t participating in the service begs the question of where the monetization would go?)
  4. Should would be required to release her music simultaneously on YouTube when she releases is anywhere else (SoundCloud, BandCamp, iTunes, etc.)
  5. As a result of item four, exclusive releases for BandCamp or iTunes fans would effectively be disallowed.

Do you notice anything interesting about this list?  Four out of five of the items have nothing to do with deriving an income from her work.  And, the one item that does have to do with ‘monetization’ really is mostly a question of where the money goes if she isn’t participating in the Music Key service.

If you were to gather anything about her issues with Music Key it would be that Google is trying to enforce terms that make artists give up control over their output, and she finds that very distasteful (as confirmed in an interview with Billboard: Cellist Zoe Keating Opens Up on Her YouTube Battle: ‘There’s a Lot of Fear Out There’).

Keating asked at one point if she could strike the parts of the contract that she didn’t like, and then sign it.  She was told it was an all or nothing contract and she couldn’t strike out the portions she disagreed with.

Aside: this sounded a bit odd to me. I’ve always understood that you could strike out and initial any part of a contract that you didn’t agree with, and submit it. It was then up to the recipient of the modified contract to agree or not. My understanding come from a family member who was a practicing lawyer, and dealt with a lot of contracts. I have always understood this was your right, but I cannot swear to knowing the legal principles, or if they have changed in the last thirty years.

Indie Artists In Control

Zoë Keating’s dilemma strikes me as being very familiar to artists who license their works under Creative Commons licenses (which I wish Zoe would consider as it would allow her a finer level of control and specificity over what her fans are allowed to do with her work, and what they are not allowed to do).

The fact is that the music industry, service providers, and even the U.S. Copyright Office are not understanding the facts of this situation: the platform(s) we have available now have allowed independent artists greater freedom and greater control over their work.  It’s well past the time for these draconian, complex agreements designed to control the creative output of the artist.  Instead it is time for creating services that fill artists needs transparently, allowing them the control that they seek.

I included the U.S. Copyright Office in the above list deliberately.  I will get to them in a future series of articles.

The fact is more artists are turning away from the mainstream industry because of these kinds of terms.  They find them disagreeable.  And they should.

Google Is Blind To Itself

The fact is, we have seen the damage that Google (and other services) are doing to the social fabric of, not just the U.S., but the world.  I don’t believe they are doing these things out of a desire to do “evil”.  Rather, as Keating says, their ideals have been subsumed.  In a fit of naivety they believe that the ideas they have are always the best for everyone, and if you don’t agree then you just don’t understand.  Well, I generally understand, and I have problems with some of Google’s choices.  Here’s a few examples:

ContentID – even though Keating felt that it was a good service since it allowed her the choice of whether to monetize use of her content or not.  That’s good for the artists. However the implementation leaves a lot to be desired as I have pointed out before (also see: Why I Support Creative Commons, Pt 1).

Orphaned Book Scanning – remember this one?  Google seemed to be trying to do the right thing scanning in books and allowing people to search these books.  But several interested parties filed lawsuits and the whole thing took around eight years to make it through the legal system (see: The Google Book Settlement and Orphan Works). If Google had been doing a project like this purely to preserve a part of our cultural heritage, and had worked with an organization like The Internet Archive, then things might have turned out for the better.  But, since the goal was to really make a play for information that could be monetized the whole thing became extremely contentious.

Killing Off Whole Classes of Websites – this one is a little bit trickier, but there is ample evidence of damage being done.  It used to be that if you searched for say “miley cyrus wrecking ball lyrics” the search results would point to a lyrics site.  But not now, instead Google has started displaying lyrics in search results, and in some cases provides a link to their Google Play store to purchase the works (or to see the full results for the lyrics).  This has been very damaging to Lyrics sites throughout the web: April 2014 Google Algorithm Updates Heavily Targeted Song Lyrics and MP3 Websites.  Now I won’t claim that I liked a lot of these lyrics sites, they were quite annoying, but targeting them with a search engine change in order to make room for monetization on their own service.

G+ – ahh, where to start with this one.  Well, I will focus on one specific point that is salient in this discussion (because it has a similar theme to Keating’s issue with Music Key).  I write a lot on this site, for those that aren’t following along, I typically write five or six posts a week. I syndicate my content to numerous social networks, including G+.  However, G+ hasn’t been a driver for the majority of these articles.  So why would I still publish them on G+?  Well, because Google gives G+ preferential treatment when it comes to search results.  My posts on G+ end up in the Google results anywhere from 2-8 hours before the post on my site is indexed.  The G+ posts always turn up in the search results ahead of my actual posts.  I can’t lose that advantage, as I have pointed out in my end of year article, Google accounts for a massive 98.5 percent of the search engine traffic to my site.  The net effect is: the longer the delay in getting my articles into Google, the fewer people would be likely to find the content.

So, there is a pattern here.  There are more examples that people have pointed out over time, but just these four examples show the ways in which Google is manipulating our perception of the world, and affecting portions of the social fabric of the world.

What Should Keating Do?

She asked in her article, and I would make some radical suggestions…

  1. Move her music off YouTube.  Don’t sign the Music Key agreement.
  2. Use another video service, such as Vimeo.  They seem to be much more interested in allowing the artist control over their work.  And, they work harder to mke sure artists are credited.  (Here’s an example searching for Spiedkiks on Vimeo.)
  3. Encourage fans to use another service, like Vimeo.  (Seriously, I am not shilling for Vimeo, it’s just the first service I thought of when I thought about an alternative).

At least that is my reaction.  I think the time is coming for services that are more transparent about what they provide for artists.  And I think it’s time artists start paying attention to what the “big guys” are trying to do.

A Final Appeal

This is a personal, direct appeal to Zoe Keating:

Zoe, please consider (or re-consider) licensing your works under a Creative Commons license.  While some artists have a negative understanding of Creative Commons, there are more artists that understand the positive site of the license.  Amanda Palmer, Professor Kliq, Brad Sucks, Spiedkiks, Jonathan Mann, Joe Frawley, Jonathan Coulton, just to name a few of the better known artists.

Creative Commons isn’t about giving up control.  In fact, I would argue that it’s about enabling the artist to have greater control over their work.  It’s about the artist deciding what they want to allow their fans to be able to do with the works.  It’s about defining what uses need to be cleared with you as an artist (in particular, it allows you to set the specific terms for third party use through a CC+ license).

And, if those reasons weren’t enough: it’s about preserving our culture.  You have become an artist with a voice in the cultural landscape.  Licensing your work in a manner that preserves it in the cultural landscape is one of the most positive things an artist can do, in my opinion.

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