Part 106: Copyrights, TikTok, YouTube Music, A.I.
©Stacya Shepard Silverman Riley Shepard’s Promise 2024 All Rights Reserved
Today is Feb. 5th, 2024. The news is dire. I fast forward through much of PBS Newshour. War, but I can see we don’t call it war now. It’s a strange time. Onwards.
I took this picture myself, I swear. It’s just a pile of Riley’s records people have given me over the past ten years on my fabulous red dining room table.
Something exciting happened recently. I keep finding out new stuff! Someone overseas found a treasure trove of old recordings, a handful of which were my father’s recordings, from the 1940s. Some were demos, some were never released songs from legit recording sessions that were never released. One is called “When You’re Gone” with piano, (not Riley, he didn’t play the piano) on others, Riley is on guitar.
“Keep Walking” or “Keep Walking in The Light of the Lord” is a recording with Riley singing and playing the guitar–– it’s super clear, great quality. Next, there’s one where Riley talks a bit, he introduces another religious song, “Do You Want to Shake Hands with Jesus?” this one, again, just Riley and his guitar.
“They Didn’t Believe It Was True” another religion song with Riley on guitar. (Reminder, Riley rejected religion. He was an atheist in the privacy of our home, but religion is popular, so he sang the songs.) One recording sounds like a scratchy record, it’s a love ballad, with someone on piano. He sounds terrific, it was good to hear his voice again. My first thought: Wow! I can find a way to post them on my blog so everyone can listen! But there are laws and rules, as there should be, and I have no way of knowing if it’s legal to post these songs, so I won’t. Riley signed his royalties over to me and my sister, Lisa, filling out the paperwork officially with ASCAP, but still, I’m often confused. When I find out more, I’ll get back to this.
There’s a lot going on with copyright laws, including a debate about A.I. that recently crashed onto the small copyright office within the Library of Congress. Artists and creators say A.I. is infringing on their copyrights, obviously tech companies don’t agree.
I have a video filmed on my iPhone from June 13th, 2020 (thank you, David Silverman) of my friend Steve singing (a cappella) a song that was a perfect and funny way to honor Riley, while I scattered his ashes (just a teaspoon) in Hollywood, right outside of an apartment we were kicked out of in 1970 or ’71. The lyrics are protected by copyright laws, so I can’t post that video anywhere. Too bad, Steve sounds great. One of my friends told me that bots are trolling the internet looking for people who may have posted something that turns out is (as it should be) protected...yet so many people have websites with photos, links, and other information probably don’t know they’ve broken a rule. It’s sort of...terrifying. What about that photo of Ali Wong I posted after I saw her stand-up? I’m so paranoid now that I took it down, including what I wrote about how brilliant she is. You may innocently think you’re promoting something you love, but there’s this other risk.
A of mine friend received a notice from a law firm asking for $800, because her website linked...linked not posted, to another site that used a photograph that didn’t have permissions. Out of the blue, she got a letter from a group called “PicRights” (other companies are called FoodPhotos, Agence France Presse, and Law Firm Higbee & Associates) demanding $800.00. At first, she thought it was a scam, but it’s real. You may have grabbed screenshots off the internet, and these companies listed above use bots to troll to see if people have used, say, a photo from a photographer who has rights. They send an angry letter and a bill. They do represent photographers, and photographers should be credited and paid, but these companies are predatory in nature, sometimes demanding thousands of dollars. If you need photos for a specific project, take your own, or go to Pixabay, Pixels, or Unsplash. Creative Commons is a resource: https://creativecommons.org/
We can’t even link to a webpage that has any copyright violations. Sheesh. I hope all my links are to Wikipedia, and did they get permissions? I link to Internet Archives here, that seems safe, right????? I remember how angry this one writer guy was (prolly still is) with Internet Archives, he believes they are defying copyright laws by posting his book and said so loudly on social media. Internet Archives says, no, we’re a library. They said, when I donated Riley’s “Encyclopedia of Folk Music” that they are a digital library. Confusing! They are a library, aren’t they? Yes. Right. No? What do you think?
There are YouTube channels with songs and music, some are my father’s songs are played, alongside the photos of him I posted online that people grabbed. If I link to those YouTube videos, and the YouTubers don’t have rights to play those songs, am I in trouble? It sounds like I would be. Even just linking is considered promoting law breaking.
Long ago, I once sold a product to a huge corporation. I signed non-disclosure agreements, so no details here, I won’t even describe the product, but it was something that I created with a good friend. We hired a designer, found a factory in the United States, created the widgets, then we had to get a copyright and a trademark. I went to some lawyer a designer recommended, but then when I talked to a woman (friend of a friend) who worked for the top law firm here in Seattle–– she said, “you can’t afford me, I’ll just give you a bunch of free advice” and she spoke with me for 30 minutes. It was golden. She said she looked up the lawyer I was working with and that he wasn’t experienced at all, and that I should dump him pronto, then she told me what steps to take and recommended another law firm (also a great one, slightly less expensive).
I basically learned a lot about copyrights and trademarks within the business world, and some stuff I didn’t want to know: How big companies sort of screw over smaller ones, gobble them up and spit them out, as well squashing down individual people, (creators, inventors, smaller businesses) by gobbling up all the information and presenting it as “theirs.” I was dismayed to find out many beloved brands have done really shitty things. I wanted this blender, but one of my friends told me how they completely screwed over a woman he knows (who I won’t mention here), they basically took her intellectual property without paying her. I think it hurts the economy, too, because smaller companies can be destroyed by larger ones.
I often think about how Dolly Parton’s song “I Will Always Love You” had a little copyright drama with Elvis. Colonel Tom Parker called up Parton, said Elvis wanted to record it, but they wanted the copyright. Dolly was all like, “Uh, no thanks.” Then they wanted to take 50% of the royalties. She said no again. “That is my most important copyright,” she said on Howard Stern’s show. So, Elvis didn’t record the song, Dolly said she cried all night, it was so sad at the time. Willie Nelson was ripped off when he first started out, he needed the money, so he sold his songs for dirt cheap to feed his family, and someone else was credited for his work. Why not pay Willie Nelson and keep his name on the work?
And... who would want their name on a song that someone else wrote? Weirdly, it does make me wonder if Riley did have something to do with the song "Blue Christmas” as some have suggested, because it ended up being an Elvis hit. And remember, on a prior blog, I met Colonel Tom Parker when my father took me to an ASCAP meeting, he came up to us singing “Blue Christmas” doing a little dance in the hotel lobby, snapping his fingers. But if Riley did write it, or had a hand in writing it, and then sold the copyright, he doesn’t mention that in his journal.
When I was young, I thought my father was the one ripped off, I was super pissed on his behalf. Militant, like young people can be about things, self-righteous, even. Learning that he might’ve been the one doing the ripping off was hard to accept, even though my mother told me all about his sometimes sketchy behavior when I was twelve, and reminded me over and over again through out my life. Also, it may have been both–– he may have been ripped off, then started ripping off, like that old movie, “The Bicycle Thief”. Since reading his journal, I know he started stealing at a young age, not just breaking into his grandmother’s grocery store, but before that, he writes, “Stole a bag of silver from a strawberry plant and got away with it."
Anyway, you’d think after having all these lawyers help me sell my widget to this big company, and all the money I spent on the lawyers that I’d be all knowing. Full of wisdom. Not the case. I had no idea before my friend got in trouble that we can’t freely link to things we find interesting or cool on our websites, blogs, or social media.
The TikTok thing, I get that, artists should be paid, and TikTok makes a ton of money. But it’s also the way we promote artists, posting stuff we love, and maybe that helps struggling artists sell songs, make unknowns more popular. Free promotion! But yes, also, pay the artists. Radio and television stations pay royalties on music, but things are somehow different on these other platforms. There’s something hilarious about TikTok calling Universal Music “greedy.” I think the quote from TikTok is “Greed ahead of the interests of the artist” because they say they are a promotional platform. Are they? I don’t know. I’m not on TikTok.
Riley became agitated in his last decade, he couldn’t understand what was happening to his royalties, the checks were getting smaller and smaller. But he wouldn’t hire a lawyer. I mean, he didn’t have any money at all when he was old, and the money I sent him wouldn’t have been enough, but he didn’t think that way, doing things like hiring lawyers. He did try to police things on his own. I have angry letters he sent, warning people that they were infringing on his copyrights for songs. I don’t think most artists think about the business side in the way they should. Dolly Parton, though. She continues to amaze me. When Whitney Houston recorded that song, Dolly made a lot of money.
My head is spinning. I wish I could share music on this site, but until I figure out how to do that, we shall remain tuneless. In the meantime, take your own pictures, make sure you never post photos you don’t have permissions to post. Giving credit doesn’t solve the problem. I have permissions here from the professional photographer I use. Knowingly linking to work that infringes on copyright is something trolling bots go after, but also there are scammers out there, pretending to confront you, trying to scare you, but they are fake, and you should never click on these notices on social media. So confusing!
Probably don’t use photos that are not royalty free, that’s a violation of copyright. Even if you are a well-known person, and you are using a photo of yourself, an AP photo for example, they may come after you. “But this picture is of me!” you might say. Doesn’t matter. And of course, photographers need to make a living, and they shouldn’t be ripped off. Most people don’t have malicious intent, though, they simply don’t know all this stuff.
I don’t want anyone else to go through what my friend is going through. Also, give photo credit to people even if the photo is free, even if the photo was taken by a non-famous photographer. Maybe especially in that case. Thank you for everyone who subscribes to this blog. I appreciate the feedback I’ve been given all these years.
Here’s another resource, EFF https://www.eff.org/
Here’s a blog about copyright trolls in the music industry: https://www.eff.org/issues/copyright-trolls
“Copyright is a type of intellectual property that protects original works of authorship as soon as an author fixes the work in a tangible form of expression. In copyright law, there are a lot of different types of works, including paintings, photographs, illustrations, musical compositions, sound recordings, computer programs, books, poems, blog posts, movies, architectural works, plays, and so much more!”— Copyright Office website.
©Stacya Shepard Silverman Riley Shepard’s Promise 2024 All Rights Reserved