Back in the winter of 2018, a sort-of meme went around pointing out that the cadence of the HP Lovecraft poem "Nemesis" fit perfectly with the melody of Billy Joel's "Piano Man."
Thro' the ghoul-guarded gateways of slumber,
Past the wan-moon'd abysses of night,
I have liv'd o'er my lives without number,
I have sounded all things with my sight;
And I struggle and shriek ere the daybreak, being driven to madness with fright.
It was true. It was funny. So I grabbed my guitar, recorded a quick, unrehearsed video of myself singing Lovecraft's words in a simulacrum of Billy Joel's famously haunting melody, posted it to social media, and moved on with my life.
Four months later, I received a DMCA takedown notice from Twitter on behalf of Universal Music Publishing Group, saying:
These file(s) offer access to unlicensed exploitations of musical compositions owned or controlled by UMPG. I have a good faith belief that this activity is not authorized by the copyright owner, its agent, or the law. I assert that the information in this notification is accurate, based upon the data available to me.
Twitter, as per their usual policies, immediately took my video down, and told me to defend myself. I responded:
This takedown notice was sent to me in error. The video I posted parodied the melody from a Billy Joel song using lyrics about an ancient demon bent on driving all of a humanity into madness. This is clearly transformative, and therefore qualifies as a derivative work as defined by the DMCA, meaning that it is not subject to the copyright held by UMPG. Furthermore, my video clearly qualifies under the four points of the Fair Use doctrine of the DMCA:
1. The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes (this is a non-commercial video)
2. The nature of the copyrighted work (as explained above, it is not a copyrighted work because it qualifies as a transformative derivative work)
3. The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole (again, my video did not infringe on UMPG's copyright)
4. The effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work (a non-commercial derivative Lovecraftian parody does not infringe upon Billy Joel's "potential market")
I never heard anything back about this. The video was never restored to Twitter.
I realize that this is standard practice for this kind of intellectual property dispute: the social media company relies on overly-aggressive algorithms and always errs on the side of the powerful corporate complaint and removes the content until it's proven innocent. It's … not a great system.
I recently learned that UMPG had done the same thing to the video I posted on YouTube. But I never received an email notification about that, and I frankly don't check my YouTube Creator Channel very often, because I don't post things regularly on YouTube. So I have no idea how long they were claiming the copyright to my video — and the income (however minuscule) from the plays it received. Once I realized this, I immediately contested the claim. To my surprise, Billy Joel's lawyers relented, and finally returned the rights of my stupid 4-year-old video back over to me.
I am, however, still fighting Instagram for taking down a video of me and my band listening to our own album. But still: score one for Cthulhu at least.
Image: Cthulhu for America campaign via Wikimedia Commons (CC-BY-SA 4.0)