Copyright Law

Supreme Court eyes Section 230 ruling that could be BAD for musicians

This week the U.S. Supreme Court began arguments on the Gonzalez and Taamneh cases, and their rulings either could dial back or eliminate existing protections that web platforms have from lawsuits over content posted without permission.

While both cases center on hate content like ISIS recruitment videos, changes that the court might order will have implications for music, music discovery, and all user-generated content. While support for the plaintiffs is not universal, both Republicans and Democrats are lining up in support of more restrictions.

In its current form, under Section 230, a website or social platform first has to know or be told that “illegal” content has been uploaded and then has a reasonable time to take it down without liability or penalty.

How can a Supreme Court ruling that makes it less likely that content is pirated or used without permission be bad for musicians, songwriters, record labels, and other creators and rightsholders?

The answers lie in how the many platforms that musicians and others rely on to grow and monetize a fanbase – including YouTube, TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, Twitch, and hundreds of other platforms that allow user-generated content – will react if the Supreme Court eviscerates Section 230, as some believe it will.

Respected 1st Amendment lawyer Robert Corn-Revere puts it this way:

Simple math dictates the outcome: If there is the slightest chance you might shoulder legal accountability for what you let people post on your platform, you are not going to risk it... The larger the platform, the greater the risk of liability—and the greater the need for protection.

How effective will TikTok or YouTube be a music marketing platform if every artist and fan must repeatedly prove that they have the right to use a song?

Goodbye Music Discovery

At the center of the Gonzolez case are internal search and recommendation algorithms and whether or not platforms are liable for “recommending” (in this case, harmful) content to users.

While alongside amazing discoveries, there have been times that I would have liked to punish YouTube and Spotify for the shite that they recommended, I never imagined I could sue them for it.

But most experts agree that if the case goes as the plaintiffs hope, most platforms would severely limit or end algorithmically driven recommendations just to be safe.

To co-opt Aesop’s Fables, “Be careful what you wish for, lest it comes true.”

For a deeper dive, check out this somewhat humorous but legally accurate explainer from Legal Eagle.

Bruce Houghton is the Founder and Editor of Hypebot and MusicThinkTank, a Senior Advisor at Bandsintown, President of the Skyline Artists Agency, and a professor for the Berklee College Of Music.

H/T Techdirt

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