Tuesday 10 August 2010, 13:10
YouTube has been forced to remove Newport (Ymerodraeth State Of Mind) from its servers due to a copyright claim by EMI Music Publishing Ltd.
For the time being, at least, Goldie Lookin' Chain's response, You're Not From Newport, is still available on the site, as is a performance at the Transporter Bridge (warning: links contain strong language).
I have thought since this video first came to light that there was a certain legal ambiguity to the song and its lyrics. While straight cover versions are entirely legal (as long as properly credited) and a staple of the music business from the very top to the very bottom, interpretations of existing songs are a different matter altogether.
'Substantial rewrite' is a pseudo-legal term in the music industry meaning that when you're covering a song or using an element of a song - whether lyrically or musically - it requires the permission of the original copyright holder.
This can be a complex process: you get in touch with the Performing Right Society, the organisation responsible for the administration of song copyrights (music and lyrics, but not recording) in the UK. The PRS works with their relevant partner organisations across the world (in the USA it's ASCAP and the BMI), who then find out from the relevant publisher whether the songwriter is amenable to the rewrite.
Obviously this laborious process means that the vast majority of rewrites, pastiches and spoofs are ignored or simply never heard about. There's a certain level of publish-and-be-damned to it; who cares when you're playing to 50 people in a club?
But the power of the internet means that something can blow up - go viral, if you prefer an awful expression - and suddenly who can turn a blind eye to it? Two and a half million YouTube hits meant that the publishers of the Jay-Z and Alicia Keys' original almost had no choice but to knock it on the head.
Jemima Kiss in The Guardian wrote, "OK, it's a rip-off of the Jay-Z and Alicia Keys song. But it has a significant amount of original work, video, rewritten lyrics and a good concept. Isn't that fair use?"
However, the fact that it does have original work and rewritten lyrics, plus the sheer volume of hits, means it's skating into the middle of a frozen lake wearing stilletoes. Sure it would be nice if we could all get along and things could be done on the nod-and-the-wink, but the music industry doesn't work like that.
Assuming that the video was taken down because of the 'substantial rewrite' regulations, it's a shame but not unexpected.
Update (11 August, 9am): A statement from EMI, quoted by Radio 1's Newsbeat, said, "When a song is created based wholly on any of our writers' works, those writers need to grant their permission.
"If that permission isn't granted, then we ask the service in question to remove the song."
The director of the video, MJ Delaney, said she was unable to comment at the moment.
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