Heather Dale hardly needs introduction here, let alone anywhere else. She's an insanely talented Canadian Celtic musician. Everyone and their kid sister has a youtube vid set to Mordred's Lullaby. Heck, I was introduced to her music through a Hellboy fanvid (Mmmm Prince Nuada), and I even have a friend who used it on Dark Shadows (original show not the movie. She'd be upset if I don't make that distinction) fanvid. She has a TED talk for pity's sake. Most of us don't have one of those, you know. What I'm saying is it's pretty unbelievable that Youtube would treat someone who is so well known like that.
But without further ado I'll let Heather Dale explain:
I'm a fully independent musician, by choice… my partner Ben Deschamps & I believe that in order to reach other like-minded folks with our music, we should retain the business freedom to choose what we want to record, go where our fans are, and tour hard (we do over 100 concerts a year across North America and Europe, all booked by us). The fan support for my music over the years has been incredible — and nowhere is that more evident than the hundreds of fan-made videos on YouTube that feature my songs. People from all over the world have created beautiful and powerful short films, and set them to recordings like my “Mordred's Lullaby”, “Medusa”, and “Hunter”. They are GORGEOUS — I know some musicians don't approve of fan-vids, but I am 100% in support of them. And I'm really honoured that people find my music so inspiring.
So in addition to the 4-million+ views of all those fan-vids on YouTube, Ben and I have also created quite a few official videos of our own for our Heather Dale YouTube Channel. They range from fun glimpses into my daily life, to official videos to go along with my songs like “Fortune” and “Mountain”. When our self-produced videos became popular enough, YouTube contacted us and offered Partner Status — and that opened up the possibility of getting paid a few cents every time someone watched one of our creations. We were understandably excited! Youtube asked for proof that we owned our music: an affidavit of copyright ownership, info about our performing rights organization membership, and copies of our business registration for Amphis Music (our self-run music publishing company).
But here's where it started to get odd: we received an email back from Youtube, claiming that they didn't believe we owned the copyrights for our songs. They requested the same affidavits again… and thinking this was just a glitch in their form-letter system, we complied and sent everything along again. No response. As the weeks ticked by, we started looking for ways to contact Youtube to sort out this predicament… we searched through the whole Youtube site for appropriate customer service contacts, we phoned Google Head Office (and were informed, in no uncertain terms, that “YouTube doesn't do phones”), we submitted requests wherever we could find a likely email address. Still nothing.
As those weeks turned into months, we also applied to another YouTube monetization program called “Content ID”. We'd read about it on Youtube main site, and it seemed like we (having official Partner Status) might be eligible. The Content ID program seemed perfect: it allows music-owners, whose songs are used widely by people making fan-vids, to earn a few cents on those videos too. And with millions of views, we of course wanted to be part of that growing program. So we applied… and got a form letter back from YouTube that offered to remove the ‘offending' fan-vids. That's SO not what we asked for — we *love* those fan-videos!! So we tried to respond, to explain that we didn't want the videos removed. But the contact link that YT had provided didn't work. Yet again, no way to communicate…. just form-letters and a frosty silence.
Feeling pretty bad about the situation, we made our original video:
The online response was HUGE. Responses started flooding in: “yeah, but I gave up trying to contact them”, “they totally ignored my questions”, “yes, they've claimed we don't own our music too”. There's big-time frustration out there, at how poorly YouTube treats ‘the little guy' — any independent content creator who doesn't have a big corporation on his/her side. Yes, indie artists don't make YT any big money. But if the programs are offered to us, I think that it's important that we be listened to.
After a week, thousands of voices had joined our cry — searching for contact info, calling friends at Google, sharing and re-sharing the video — and it definitely made an impression. We were contacted by a polite, friendly customer service representative from YouTube… a real human at last. Our copyright ownership problems were fixed, and we were able to explain that we didn't want our fan-vid creators to lose all their hard work.
But the part that lingers with me, is that we are *not* the only ones in this situation. Just this week in the news, super-nice indie musician Jonathan Coulton had one of his song arrangements outrageously stolen by the producers of Glee — and he was informed that “he should be thankful” that they did. Why? Because he's an independent artist? He owns the copyrights to his work, the same as a big record label would in a different situation. But as an indie, Jonathan doesn't have a legal team. What he does have, though, is a kinship with the rest of us out here: fans and friends who are willing to stand up and make a LOT of noise on his behalf. I hope that in his case, as happened when thousands of awesome people rallied behind me, he will be treated respectfully and with the human dignity every one of us deserves.
Of course, if this was a perfect world that would be the end of it. However, she recently got a email from youtube claiming she doesn't own “Mordred's Lullaby.” It feels like repeatedly hitting your head again a brick wall, I know. As anyone who has ever had to say deal with customer service, IT or an cosmetics company (*coughAvoncough*), the best thing to be done is to be firmly there and a problem for these people. So keep bugging Youtube and making noise. Because you can't stop the signal.
Gail Rybak is an occasional writer, artist, photographer, Avon Lady, and she helps run Amelia’s Heirlooms. She is also a full-time geek and cat owner, and enjoys writing for Celtic Music Magazine. She will hopefully (assuming she can remember her password) be writing on her personal blog Machinations of a Robothobbit. Fame and fortune has eluded her so far, but she has many fine hats.