Family Feud

Well this could get awkward.

Brothers Rich and Ryan Raddon, the former being the co-founder of YouTube rights management platform ZEFR and the latter being better known by his DJ name, Kaskade, seemingly find themselves on opposing sides of the copyright debate.

Late last week, Reuters reported that uber-popular YouTube star Michelle Phan is being sued by Ultra Records, a music label which happens to represent Kaskade, along with other electronic dance music (EDM) names like deadmau5 and Calvin Harris. Ultra claims that Phan used approximately 50 of its artists’ songs without permission in videos – primarily beauty and style tutorials – on YouTube and her own website. Phan, who has more than 6.7 million subscribers and 976 million views on YouTube, is one of the video platform’s most visible stars.

ZEFR, which offers a SaaS software solution and managed services practice to help major brands manage their content rights on YouTube, confirmed to Pando this morning that Ultra is indeed a client. So far, nothing out of the ordinary. (The company did not respond to requests for further comment on the Phan case.)

But, Kaskade, whose works Reuters says “feature most prominently in the record label’s complaint,” doesn’t seem thrilled about the suit. He recently tweeted:

Copyright law is a dinosaur, ill-suited for the landscape of today’s media.

Earlier this week, Kaskade tweeted out a link to a then one month old blog post about a similar content rights dispute with Soundcloud, with the message:

The DJ went on to offer his support to Phan, tweeting:

So how do the Raddon brothers reconcile their respective stances on copyright law and its enforcement? Ryan (Kaskade) is a content creator, and thus rights holder, who you might expect to be pro-copyright enforcement. And yet, he compared such laws to a dinosaur. Rich owns a software company valued in the multiple-hundreds of millions of dollars precisely because these laws exist and offer rights holders the ability to monetize their digital content.

There’s an undeniable incongruity in the two Raddon’s positions.

To ZEFR’s credit, it’s always taken an audience-friendly stance, preferring to “claim” and “monetize” infringing content published to YouTube, rather than the previous best practice of removing that content and, in some cases, pursuing legal action against the infringing channel owner. But in this situation, the decision, it would seem, is being made by the company’s client, Ultra.

Kaskade, by a similar token, appears to take the more progressive-minded approach adopted by many of today’s artists that using free online channels to build an audience is a net positive. In the EDM genre, in particular, artists earn the vast majority of their revenue through live performances, rather than via music sales. In that light, Kaskade’s position makes even more sense.

So the one constituent whose actions are the least reasonable, given the current landscape, would be Ultra. As Kaskade explained in that same Soundcloud dispute blog post last month (which, by the way, is worth reading in full):

When I signed with Ultra, I kissed goodbye forever the rights to own my music. They own it. And now Sony owns them. So now Sony owns my music. I knew that going in…

Am I authorized to post my music? Yep. Does [Soundcloud's] soulless robot program know that? Not so much…

I post mash ups mainly because I don’t need to keep these things tucked under my pillow, pulling out my little Precious only to be played at gigs. You want to hear it? Grab it. Like it? Great. The end.

But the labels, they aren’t feeling this approach so much.

There’s always been this cagey group of old men who are scared to death of people taking their money.

Make no mistake about it, that’s what this is about. Money. And control. It’s no secret that the music industry has been in a state of upheaval over the last two decades, with legacy constituencies like labels seeing their decades-old business models disappear, practically overnight. So with these giants scraping for sources of income anywhere they can get it, it’s no surprise that they don’t take kindly to Phan (and others) generating massive followings, and with it real revenue, in part through using their content.

To Ultra’s credit, it is incumbent on Phan and other YouTube stars that belong to multi-channel networks to negotiate their own music licenses, rather than simply relying on YouTube’s blanked Content ID system. In 2012, Phan launched her own MCN called FAWN and thus falls squarely within this category.

But it’s a shame when it’s not enough that one content creator (Kaskade) supports another creator’s use of his work (Phan). But content ownership is often a tangled web with many overlapping and conflicting interests.

In this case, it means that Phan may soon have a day in court and the Raddons are in store for some awkward family dinners.

  1. ZEFR
    Legal movie, sports, TV, and music clips.
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    ZEFR provides solutions for professional content owners on YouTube and has built a premium network that brings together the largest and most diverse collection of movies, television, music and sports content. With more than 700 million monthly views after only 10 months on the platform, ZEFR is the fastest growing YouTube partner. They are the dominant company in the movie category on YouTube and have partnerships with six major Hollywood studios along with several prominent independents.

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