In the midst of the pandemic lockdown, artists and musicians have turned to virtual means of staying connected to fans and audiences, as much for their sake as ours. It's a trite observation given the real challenges they face, but performers do survive on the attention that we're able to give them, and the money that comes along with that attention and subsequent ticket sales. We're not sweating the fate of superstar performers, but what about those who are far less famous but nevertheless dependent upon support to survive, particularly those who are coming up against the pernicious threat of copyright bots online?
That is the nightmare that the Camerata Pacifica chamber music ensemble and its artistic director Adrian Spence seem to have walked into, having committed the sin of streaming old performances online. As reported in the Washington Post, Spence promptly started to receive notifications that the videos were flagged by bots for copyright infringement. The claims were, of course, ludicrous; the performaces were those by the ensemble itself and of classical pieces that have long been in the public domain, both facts that would have been clearly evident to a human evaluator.
The fact that it wasn't a human making the determination highlights a central tension in the ongoing copyright fight online. There's far too much content uploaded every day across the most prevalent platforms for there to be human review for copyright violations, but the bots deployed by those platforms are limited to the bounds of their algorithms and are incapable of the judgment needed in cases like the Camerata Pacifica takedowns. In the absence of smarter bots, there's going to be an unfair burden placed upon legitimate creators unfairly flagged by flawed automation.
The Post details how Spence continues to struggle with both the bots and the vagaries of the customer service arm of Facebook and YouTube, and how other classical performers are similarly affected by copyright takedowns as they look to those platforms to stay afloat while public performances remain shut down. And while public gatherings will return at some indeterminate point in the future, the broader problem won't suddenly subside; artists increasingly rely upon online platforms for exposure and revenue, and even an automated system that turns up a small percentage of erroneous flags means millions of videos incorrectly taken down.
It's unrealistic to think that the platforms and their algorithms could ever get it entirely right, but Camerata Pacifica and others have to hope that they can at least do better.