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Why the SoundCloud lawsuit is total bullshit

Hands up if you’re a musician and you have a multi-million dollar recording, promotional and touring budget? And keep your hands up if you have a record label behind you, a solid management team and millions of followers on social media. Hand still up? Didn’t think so.

SoundCloud copyright infringement

In a world where getting exposure is hard enough as it is already, the SoundCloud lawsuit stands to disadvantage droves of up and coming musicians.

Chances are if you’re an emerging musician, there’s only a finite number of ways to get your music out to people in an effective, low-cost way. Since 2008 SoundCloud has been offering up-and-coming, as well as more established musicians just that: an outlet for their music with an excellent search function that they can link to their social media pages, and that doesn’t cost them the earth.

Unfortunately, a potential lawsuit, instigated by everyone’s besties over at Sony and Universal Music, might see this amazing platform crashing down around everyone’s ears. The labels have joined forces to fight the ‘massive copyright infringement’ taking place on the site, involving — but not limited to — people uploading remixes, DJ sets, and albums without permission or licences to do so.

Universal and Sony collectively own more than half of the world’s commercially-produced music, meaning they have the power to cause some serious damage. Early reports suggest that this could spell the end for SoundCloud. As we recently argued, SoundCloud is an incredibly powerful tool for emerging musicians, and if the record companies win this battle, many artists may find themselves sans-audience. So why is SoundCloud so important?

For promising indie-rock groups, producers, and those who use samples in their music, SoundCloud is a place where those with talent, but not a huge budget or well-established audience, can get their music heard. Although musicians don’t earn money from the platform, it’s a fantastic distribution method if they’re starting out. Thanks to tools that show what’s trending, and ones that let people repost tracks so their followers can listen to them, combined with a potential audience of 300 million, up-and-comers can get their tunes heard by the masses like never before. Producers who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford to sample songs have an outlet to do so, and more established musos can upload music that their record label wouldn’t necessarily release.

And it’s not just fellow bedroom musos, subculture fans and those who are too stingy to pay for music that have their ear to the ground on the site. Snoop Dogg discovered Polish musician Iza Lach on the platform, and flew out to Poland to record with her. He also regularly reposts songs that he likes on his own page. Good publicity if you can get it, eh? The thing is, if you are good enough, you can! Diplo also reposts tracks that he likes on his page, as do a number of other superstars.

Certainly, the record labels have a lot to lose here, in terms of licensing fees and royalties. But SoundCloud have been working with them to come up with a compromise — more than likely a deal where they will share ownership of the company with the labels. They also developed a tool that automatically takes down any copyrighted material, and are looking into a paid-tier system, much like Spotify. While there is still a plethora of copyright infringement going around on the site, it would be unfair to say that SoundCloud isn’t trying to placate the labels and protect what is ultimately a treasure trove of great (and not-so-great) music.

Indeed, even for those with an established audience,  more listens might not be a bad thing? A lot of young men might not dig Beyonce, but they might like a remix uploaded onto SoundCloud whose electro beats are more their vibe. While major labels may not like the fact that their property is being distributed for free, a lawsuit is a typical knee-jerk reaction from these corporate giants. It would be nice to see some creativity in the way they approached this issue, continuing to work with SoundCloud, and their artists, to tackle it. Otherwise, the impact upon unsigned artists could be monumental.

More than likely, just as when Napster was forced to shut down, a hundred other platforms will pop up to replace it. But SoundCloud now has the history and the community to be a true game-changer in the way we listen to music. It puts all musicians on an equal footing whether they’re Rihanna, Skrillex, or Bobby Joe from up the street who just wants to get his music heard.

Unlike other social platforms like YouTube, Facebook and Twitter — which all have their value when it comes to promoting emerging artists — SoundCloud is purely built around music, and getting good music heard. If that comes crashing down thanks to this lawsuit, the world might just miss out on hearing the next big thing, and might also be homogenised in terms of its musical output in the process.

It remains to be seen if this lawsuit will come into fruition, but here’s hoping the major labels can be stopped from doing their bit to silence up-and-comers, as has been their wont on so many other occasions.

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July 9, 2015

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