Vimeo vs. Capital Records: The Lip-Dub Debacle

VimeoSurely any user of Web 2.0 is at least slightly familiar with the video-sharing platform Vimeo, whether as a viewer or a contributor (or both). In Chapter 1, Where Web 2.0 Went Wrong of his 2013 book, Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Culture, Henry Jenkins outlines the lawsuit filed against Vimeo by Capitol Records in December 2009. Essentially, Capitol argued that Vimeo employees were inviting and promoting Vimeo users to infringe upon existing copyright systems put in place by Congress, primarily through the circulation of ‘lip dub’ videos . While the Vimeo lawsuit, along with Google Inc.’s YouTube LLC and Viacom Inc.’s seven-year copyright war, appears to take steps towards a more fluid and “fair” relation between Web providers/platforms and Web users/content producers, it becomes clear that the copyright systems currently in place will inevitably require amendment. On this tug-of-war taking place between the two apparent sides, Jenkins writes:

On the one hand, the mechanisms of Web 2.0 provide the preconditions for spreadable media; many of the key tools and platforms through which material is spread operate according to Web 2.0 principles. On the other hand, conflicting expectations of what constitutes fair participation means that the actual spreading of media content remains a contested practice. (Jenkins, 49)

This “contested practice” owes a lot to Congress, or perhaps more fittingly, Congress’ mistakes. When Congress updated copyright laws to create protection for sound recordings, it failed to make the change retroactive. As a result, any songs released prior to February 15, 1972, are not covered under current copyright laws. In regards to Vimeo and YouTube, this becomes an issue when users upload videos that use an older song without permission, whether as a background track or as a ‘lip dub’. As Bill Donahue at Law360 reports, many states created compensational “quasi-copyright systems” for those older recordings, effectively creating, “…a messy patchwork of common law and state law rights.”

Now, I couldn’t be less of an expert on copyright laws, it’s all a messy patchwork if you ask me, but, I do believe I can see the problem in the case of ‘lip dub’ videos. According to Jenkins, ‘lip dub’ can be defined as, “a form of high-concept music video featuring intricate lip-syncing and choreography” (47). If you go search the term on Vimeo, you’ll see videos posted by retirement homes, high schools, cheerleading groups, you name it. I’m hoping we have all seen this ridiculously over-the-top lip dub proposal by now.Isaac's Live Lip-Dub Proposal

I suppose it can be difficult to see the problem in such a seemingly harmless video; however, from the standpoint of a company like Capital, a lip dub video (no matter how innocent) that goes viral and gets millions of views should presumably result in profit for the company, right? Jenkins cites TechDirt’s claim that there is no proof that lip dub videos result in a loss of profit for big companies. There are, of course, those who argue that viral videos are like free marketing for songs/musicians/record labels/etc. This debate could go on forever; perhaps more important to note is that there is a clear social, political, and economical confusion in regards to the Web and spreadable media.

As Jenkins notes, “…Web 2.0 represents a reorganization of the relations between producers and their audiences in a maturing Internet market…” (49). Unfortunately, this evolution of the Internet has resulted in a fair amount of copyright issues that have yet to be settled in court. In my opinion, it is the existing copyright systems that will have to reshape themselves around the Internet, which is at this point an untamable beast of sorts.

Image found here.

YouTube screenshot found here.

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