Changes are happening at SoundCloud, and not at all are to some users’ liking. A recently circulated email conversation purports to show the free music streaming platform acknowledging it allowed a major label to take down a user’s tracks directly, with no involvement from SoundCloud. The company, in a statement on the issue to Mixmag, conspicuously declined to deny giving major labels freedom to police user-generated content for alleged copyright violations.
A rep for SoundCloud didn’t immediately respond to Wondering Sound’s request for clarification. It all started late last month when the blog Do Androids Dance published an image showing an email conversation between London DJ Mr Brainz, whose SoundCloud account is no longer online. The back-and-forth includes messages attributed to SoundCloud’s copyright team, who tell Brainz (real name: Greg Morris) that Universal Music has unilaterally removed his content. Here’s the key bit:
Your uploads were removed directly by Universal. This means that SoundCloud had no control over it, and they don’t tell us which part of your upload was infringing. If you look at your tracklist it may help you find the Universal content that they wanted blocked.
The control of removing content is completely with Universal. This means I can’t tell you why they removed your uploads and not others, and you would really need to ask them that question.
I don’t know what method they use to find infringing material unfortunately. Their anti-piracy team are based in the U.S.
The emails have gone on to start an online backlash, with Hypebot, for instance, asking, “SoundCloud WTF?” The situation comes at an eventful time for SoundCloud: It recently launched an overhauled mobile app, and its co-founder Eric Wahlforss, who makes music as Forss, told Music Ally the company is looking at “monetization,” aka actually paying artists somehow. But going legit entails taking more care with copyright, and takedown practices at SoundCloud recently led EDM luminary Kaskade to complain about takedowns of tracks he had uploaded from his own label home, Ultra.
SoundCloud says it’s attempting to balance the interests of copyright holders as well as users, but so far has neither confirmed nor denied the legitimacy of the statements in the Mr Brainz emails.
“As a responsible hosting platform, we work hard to ensure that everyone’s rights are respected. In the case of rights holders, that means having processes in place to ensure that any content posted without authorisation is removed quickly and efficiently,” SoundCloud told Mixmag in its statement. “In the case of users, that means having separate processes in place to ensure that any content removed in error can be reinstated equally quickly. If any user believes that content has been removed in error — for example, because they had the necessary permissions from Universal Music and/or any other rights holder — then they are free to dispute the takedown.”
To be sure, the whole kerfuffle could be a big to-do about a fairly common practice. An unnamed source told Billboard, “There’s a tool, similar to other platforms, where we provide SoundCloud a list of offending URLs.” The source added that content generally “wouldn’t come down willy-nilly.” This person noted, “It’s similar to the way it works with YouTube: you send in a request, and the content could come down immediately or be reposted, if there’s a question as to the legitimacy of the takedown request.”
A SoundCloud rep told Billboard: “We cannot comment on specific cases or specific rights holders, but we apply our processes consistently and fairly.”
SoundCloud has long been a place where users could freely upload various types of audio content without worrying as much about their content being removed. The company is reportedly worth $2 billion, though, and earlier in 2014 it put in place a copyright-identification process like the one used by YouTube. What’s more, SoundCloud came up for buyout consideration earlier this year at Twitter, but the social-media service decided “the numbers didn’t add up,” The Wall Street Journal reported in May, quoting an unnamed person familiar with the matter.
For now, the forecast at SoundCloud is just that: cloudy, with a chance of takedowns.