Universal Music’s Copyright Claim: 99 Problems And Fair Use Ain’t One

Techdirt. Stories filed under "fair use" 2024-04-24

Welp, sometimes you gotta read Techdirt fast, or you just might miss something. And sometimes it’s because Universal Music is acting to silence creativity yet again. Yesterday, we posted about how Dustin Ballard, the creative genius behind There I Ruined It, who makes very funny parody songs, had posted a lengthy disclaimer on his latest YouTube upload.

The video was the Beach Boys covering Jay-Z’s 99 Problems where every bit of it (minus the lyrics) sounded like a classic Beach Boys song. What made it interesting to us at Techdirt was the long and convoluted explanation that was included in the video to explain that the song is parody fair use, which is supposed to be allowed under copyright law.


But, sometime after that story got posted, Universal Music stepped in and decided to ruin the fun, in the only way Universal Music knows how to act: by being a copyright bully where it has no need or right to be.


Now, this is likely an automated copyright claim using ContentID or something similar, rather than a full DMCA takedown. But, it’s bullshit either way. Universal Music knows full well that it’s supposed to take fair use into account before issuing a copyright claim. Remember, Universal Music lost a lawsuit over its bogus copyright claims where it was told that it had to take fair use into account before sending such claims.

But, alas, none of that matters the way the system works today. It’s more important for YouTube to keep Universal Music happy rather than the content creators on YouTube or people who want to enjoy this music.

And, thus, as was discussed in the podcast we just uploaded, copyright remains a powerful tool of censorship.

I’m almost hesitant to point this out, for fear that some asshole at Universal Music will read this and continue on their warpath of culture destruction, but you can still hear versions of the Beach Boys doing 99 problems at both Instagram and TikTok (I mean, at least until TikTok is banned). The versions on those two sites are a bit shorter than the full YouTube version. They also cut off the copyright disclaimer such that it’s shorter.

But, really, this is yet another example of how totally broken the copyright system is. There is no conceivable reason for removing this. It’s not taking anything. It’s not making the Beach Boys or Jay-Z lose any money (and, ditto for Universal Music). If anything, it’s making people more interested in the underlying songs and artists (no one is interested in fucking Universal Music, though).

Fair use is supposed to be the valve by which the copyright system doesn’t violate the First Amendment. But when we see copyright wielded as a censorial weapon like this, with no real recourse for the artist, it should raise serious questions about why we allow copyright to act this way in the first place.