This is a bit of a weird story.

On December 25, 2008, I posted a video called “Auckland Christmas” to YouTube, and also to my podcast as “AmeriNZ Video 03 – Auckland Christmas” (and I also posted a verison to my blog as “Auckland Christmas”). The video contained a music track that I used under license from the Podsafe Music Network (now called Mevio Music Alley).

At some point after I posted the video, the artist apparently signed up with a licensing agency that charges for use. I was unaware any of that had happened—who keeps running checks on tracks they’ve used?

Today I got an email from YouTube telling me the video “may have content that is owned or licensed” by the new company (which I’d never heard of, though they’re a “YouTube Partner”, whatever that means). They also said that while this wouldn’t count against me, and the video would remain, there might be ads posted next to the video. However, despite saying “this claim is not penalising your account status,” they also ominously warned on the notice page that my “video’s status can change, if the policies chosen by the content owners change.”

Here’s where it gets really weird: The track is still listed and available on Mevio’s Music Alley—so, therefore, my original license must still be valid. If it’s not, then the burden of proof ought to be on the company claiming licensing rights, and they shouldn’t get free ads at my expense.

However, I’m not a copyright lawyer and can’t afford one, so I can’t comment on any of the legalities here. Instead, this is only about my sense of right and wrong: I legally used a track provided for my use and I fully complied with the terms of the license I was given. That license appears to still be in effect. I think—but don’t know—that the copyright licenser didn’t take any further action because I complied with the terms of the license I’d been given (and which may still be in effect).

However, I’m in no position to challenge them or Google/YouTube. So I was left with few options.

First, the new company licenses tracks for $1.99 and I could have paid their fee to re-license the track from them, but why should I? As far as I’m concerned, I already had—and still have—a valid license to use the track.

The second option is the nuclear option: Deleting the video from YouTube (which is a shame because it was the most viewed one I had). This is the option I chose (though I first made it unlisted while I decided what to do).

My next step was to take the original video project and delete the music track entirely, along with any mention of it in the end credits and written descriptions. I left the end of the video silent as a sort of protest. I then overwrote the copy on my podcast site so the video’s still available.

My final step will be to upload the altered/censored video back to YouTube. Had I paid to re-license the track I already have a license for, I’m sure I’d have to alter the credits in the video and re-upload, anyway, so why not instead make a point?

I chose that track originally because it was free and reasonably inoffensive, meaning, innocuous. It wasn’t overtly religious, as so many Christmas songs are, and wasn’t awful (as, frankly, so much free music is). There was no option to pay anything for the music and, four years ago, there were few if any other options for music I could use legally.

So there you have it. Some company asserts its muscularity and someone like me has little choice but to surrender—or fight and face the consequences. This song is not worth the fight, even if the principle could be. But since I clearly have no idea what the law says about a situation like this—someone legally uses a music track they’re licensed to use, then later someone else claims the rights—this case is too murky to take a stand on.

Next time, it may be different.

This is crossposted to my blog, one of the few times I’ve done that.