Commercial Industry and Copyrighted Digital Performances

The business of streaming and downloading performances has proved very lucrative over the past decade. As a result, companies have made major advances in ways to share digital content. Some of those innovations can be useful for scholars of the humanities, especially in increased access to digitized versions of performances. However, because these companies are monetizing that access, some scholars may find obstacles in their path to using those digital performances. Copyright law applies to performance just as to any other art, and companies have found ways to apply the rights of artists alongside offering access to audiences.

Companies like Netflix and YouTube have been pioneers in streaming video. Others, such as Apple Music, Spotify, and Pandora have established profitable means for streaming audio. Lessons learned from those companies about issues of copyright can be instructive to humanities scholars. Some of these companies require users to subscribe to their services, and they use part of those fees to license content for streaming or download by those users. Others provide the majority of their content free of charge to users by earning revenue from ads that play before or after streaming video or audio files. This model of relying on ad-based revenue has worked especially well for independent video creators, but it has also proved to be a partnership that many musicians have agreed to in exchange for compensation, though many argue that the fees streaming services pay directly to content creators are inadequate.

The fact that monetizing copyright is so lucrative has meant that many streaming services will actively pursue and take down any streaming video or audio that does not have appropriate permissions, and the software they use means this can happen within minutes or hours. Freely available access to performances is a huge benefit to scholarship and research, but the ability to have access to files, to work with those files, and to post results and analysis of them remains very much bound up in copyright. Humanities scholars are not likely to sell advertising to offset the costs of securing copyright in their own projects, so paying for licenses or trying to argue for some level of fair use remain more likely options.

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