Sony: OK, OK, we don't own Bach

When pianist James Rhodes uploaded a recording of his own performance of a Bach composition to Facebook, it was immediately blocked thanks to a match with a recording that Sony had claimed copyright in; Facebook uses an automated filter of the sort that the EU voted to make mandatory for all content types and services yesterday and it can't distinguish any competent rendition of Bach from any other competent rendition.

Rhodes contested the takedown, noting that Bach had been dead for "three centuries" (actually, it's more like two and a half) and thus he was free to record Bach whenever he had a mind to, and then a live, thinking human being at Sony rejected his appeal, taking the position that no, anyone attempting to record Bach was infringing on Sony's copyright.

After a week of widespread bad publicity and outrage, Sony finally, finally relented and grudgingly admitted that Rhodes is right, and he is allowed to upload his own performances without getting Sony's permission first.

A reminder: the EU enshrined this fucked up, bullshit system into law yesterday. To help artists.

While we don't know for sure what Sony's process is, we can guess that a copyright bot, or a human acting just as mechanically, was at the center of this mess. A human doing actual analysis would have looked at a video of a man playing a piece of music older than American copyright law and determined that it was not something they owned. It almost feels like an automatic response also rejected Rhodes' appeal, because we certainly hope a thoughtful person would have received his notice and accepted it.

Rhodes took his story to Twitter, where it picked up some steam, and emailed the heads of Sony Classical and Sony's public relations, eventually getting his audio restored. He tweeted "What about the thousands of other musicians without that reach…?" He raises a good point.

None of the supposed checks worked. Public pressure and the persistence of Rhodes was the only reason this complaint went away, despite how the rules are supposed to protect fair use and the public domain.

Sony Finally Admits It Doesn't Own Bach and It Only Took Public Pressure
[Katharine Trendacosta/EFF]