A way to make Shuffle better in iTunes and on iPhones and iPods

iTunes

I don’t know about you but I’ve listened to all of the songs in my iTunes library. Repeatedly. Over and over and over. I keep buying new ones but inevitably, the play counts add up. And the ones I didn’t want to listen to, I skipped over. Repeatedly. Over and over and over. And therein lies the answer to making Shuffle better, both in iTunes and on our iPhones, iPods and iPads.

Apple, please tweak the Shuffle algorithm so that if a song is skipped over more than once, it won’t play it during Shuffle mode at all, at least not for a while. The auto-skip period can be tweaked in the settings (in iTunes and on our portable devices). And we should also be able to decide whether we want these songs to sync to our devices at all, sort of like putting them in hibernation. Maybe even create a special section in the Library where a smart list will display these pariah songs when needed.

Some of the songs I bought have started to annoy me so much that I deleted them altogether. I suppose you can’t help that with music. You like it, then you don’t. You need a break from it. But when your iPod or iPhone keeps shoving it in your face, particularly when you’re driving and you don’t want to be bothered with skipping over songs, then that song begins to annoy you enough so that you get home and delete it from your iTunes library, just so you won’t hear it again.

And Apple, please don’t do this only in iTunes. Make sure you do it for iPhones and iPods as well, and for the older models, too. I still have a 1st gen iPod Touch that I use from time to time, and its software hasn’t been updated in years. It’d be nice to get some extra life out of it once the new Shuffle is brought out.

Thanks in advance!

How can a normal YouTube video garner so many copyright claims?

Have a look at a screenshot from my YouTube account, listing the various copyright claims made on a single video of mine.

That’s eight copyright claims, one of which still remains to be released if the music publisher in question, Believe, will do the right thing.

How can a simple video like this, where I went to the beach and filmed various simple scenes, cause YouTube’s copyright ID engine to flag it so many times?

I’m not upset (anymore). I used to get upset. (You can read those posts here and here.) For one thing, it’s not worth getting upset about. For another, YouTube has already taken steps to remedy the process, for which I thank them. Their copyright claim process, which I wrote about almost two years ago, is much improved these days, which makes it easier to file a dispute and to explain my position.

But it is mind-boggling that a simple, average video like this could trigger so many copyright flags. As I explained in past posts, all I did here was to minimally supplement the natural sound of the surf, which got muffled by wind noise in some portions of the video, with an iLife track called “Ocean Surf”. The track is royalty-free, approved by Apple for commercial and/or personal use, and the terms are clearly spelled out in the iLife Service Level Agreement.

I think there are two lessons to be learned here:

  1. YouTube’s copyright ID engine is still trigger-happy. It should be tweaked, and I suggest that this particular video of mine be used as a case study by YouTube engineers. If someone from YouTube/Google is interested, I’m willing to do a Screen Sharing session with them and show them exactly how I edited the video and where the “Ocean Surf” sound loop was used.
  2. Perhaps all these music publishers ought to stop copyrighting beach sounds? Let’s face it, nature sounds, especially ones that are as easy to record as beach sounds, are as public domain as sounds can get. Now if it’s the sound of the rare Brazilian polka-dotted bazooka bird, or some other rara avis, then I can understand the need to copyright it, but going to the beach, turning on the recorder, then calling it a copyrighted sound, is an exaggeration. Are you listening, publishers?

Do not use iMovie sounds for YouTube videos

Updated 4/24/12: YouTube has greatly improved the copyright claim dispute process in recent weeks, and it seems that even copyright holders have gotten much more responsive and willing to relinquish claims falsely flagged by YouTube’s Copyright ID engine. These are all good steps in the right direction! 

Are you a YouTube Partner? Great! Then don’t use sounds or tracks from the Final Cut Pro/iMovie/iLife library in your YouTube videos, because sooner or later, they’ll be flagged, taking them out of the revenue sharing program.

I’ve touched on this topic in this post and this earlier post as well. Until now, I thought filing a copyright dispute and trying to work within that process on the issue would lead to the correct solution, which would be a rejection of the false claims, but unfortunately that’s not the way the copyright dispute process is structured.

There is no mechanism on YouTube to adequately dispute a copyright claim, because the process is heavily tilted in the favor of the supposed copyright holder. There is a first step, which allows you to raise your hand and say to the alleged copyright holder, “Wait a minute, I’m not using your music, the track I’m using here is royalty-free, here is the iLife SLA, see where it says I’m allowed to use it commercially”, which may lead to the removal of the copyright claim, or not, in which case you can re-dispute but risk jeopardizing the standing of your YouTube account, the removal of your video along with its view count and the possible loss of your Partner status. That can be a terrible situation.

That’s right, beyond that initial “raising of your hand”, there is nothing else you can do. If YouTube staff is nice, they might give you an email address for the supposed copyright holder, and in some rare cases, someone might read your email at those places, respond and actually do something meaningful about your problem, but that chance is slim. The majority of the time, you’re going to be screwed over, and some alleged copyright holder is going to profit from your work.

The really annoying part in this whole screwing-over business is there’s no middle ground. Your video’s either in the revenue sharing program or it isn’t. YouTube has chosen to ignore the whole video aspect of this altogether, meaning that when a copyright claim is filed for the music in a video, even though you have a video which is wholly yours, and only the music might belong to someone else (but it doesn’t when you use sounds from iMovie, because they’re royalty-free), they pull the video out of revenue sharing altogether, as if there’s no video, only audio. Shouldn’t they allow you to continue to make some money on that video? After all, you shot it and edited it! Your only “fault” (if we could even call it that) was using royalty-free tracks from Apple to score it. In a logical world, that’s what would happen, but we don’t live in a logical world. We live in a world where YouTube chooses to obey the demands of alleged copyright owners without standing up for its YouTube Partners. All these supposed owners have to do is to upload sound-alike tracks to their YouTube catalog and they’re set. YouTube’s Content ID engine will start identifying videos that are using similar-sounding tracks and flagging them, leading to a lot of frustration on our part. I know this sounds harsh and I love Google and YouTube, but this is so frustrating for me that I’m not sure how else to put it.

Things have gotten so bad that now the copyright trolls have started to make music that sounds like the tracks from the iLife Library, for the express purpose of cashing in on YouTube. See this thread in the YouTube forums. And for a bit of background on the issue, see this thread as well. The problem’s existed for years, not months. YouTube likely knows about it. Privately, they’re likely tweaking the copyright engine algorithm and they’re trying to address the problem, but publicly, all I’m seeing is people getting screwed over by the copyright trolls.

You can’t even rely on the initial copyright warning anymore. In the past, you’d upload a video to YouTube, and within a few minutes, you’d get a warning saying the video matches content from such and such entity. Fine. I’d pull it down and re-edit it, using other sounds, even though the sounds I’d used were also from Apple’s royalty-free library. But now, you upload the video, everything’s fine, and months down the road, after the video’s been seen by thousands of people or more, and it’s been linked to, etc., you get the dreaded copyright warning. What are you going to do then? Pull it down? As you can see from the thread I linked to in the paragraph above, the copyright trolls are going through popular YouTube videos, identifying the music used in those videos, and then profiting from this loophole. We, the YouTube Partners, who do the hard work to create the videos that make YouTube a popular website are the ones getting screwed over. When is YouTube going to stand up for us?

To be fair, I think the blame rests squarely on the shoulders of both Google and Apple on this matter.

What Apple should have done, years ago, was to sign up for the Content ID program and upload all of the tracks in the iMovie/iLife Library (you know, the ones they keep saying are royalty-free). Then, they should have indicated to YouTube that whenever a video uploaded to the platform matches one of the tracks in their library, YouTube should do absolutely nothing about it, because it’s perfectly okay, they’re royalty-free tracks. If they had done that, we wouldn’t be in this mess now, would we?

YouTube is to blame as well. The copyright dispute process does not work. It puts all the balance of power in the hands of those who file the copyright claim, and because no person at Google reviews our disputes, the trolls have all the say in the matter. (I understand the sheer amount of work it would take if YouTube staff would have to review every dispute filed for false claims, but at least they could do it for their YouTube Partners, there aren’t that many of us.)

Instead our copyright disputes only get seen by the staff at the various copyright holding groups, who have an interest in maintaining their claims, since there’s no recourse from Google/YouTube for wrongly identified videos, and of course, let’s not forget the copyright trolls, who hang onto every claim they make no matter what one says in a dispute.

I make that distinction above because there are some groups within the music industry who aren’t copyright trolls. For example, I’ve had copyright disputes reviewed by staff at the GoDigital Media Group and the Warner Music Group, and they’ve ultimately agreed with me and retracted their copyright claims. So there are some good guys around, there just aren’t enough of them.

So my advice to you, as stated at the start of this post, is do not use music from the Final Cut Pro/iMovie/iLife Library at all if you’re a YouTube Partner. You’re better off using music from independent artists and licensing it directly from them, or getting it from websites like MusOpen — or scoring your videos yourself, with original music.

Perhaps Apple and Google will fix this at some point. Until then, do yourself a favor and follow my advice. You’ll be able to sleep better for it.

Rampant piracy in Romania

Not sure if you know this, but Romania is a virtual no man’s land when it comes to movies, books and music. Romanians often get to watch movies before they’re in theaters in the US, and there’s a large loophole in Romanian copyright law that makes it nearly impossible to prosecute those who break the law and share digital copies of movies, books or music online.

I consulted with our IP lawyer, and the gist of it is that in Romania, you’re allowed to make a copy of a “book” for “private, home use”. But since there’s no reference to movies or music or anything else in the law, courts extend that same privilege to them. And by “copy”, the courts have come to understand digital copies as well. As long as you don’t charge for them, the courts consider them “private” copies. So that leaves the door wide open for all uninformed (and informed) people to share “private copies” of movies, music and books all over the net.

Back in 2009, I wrote an article about software piracy in Romania, explaining that when software costs $300 to buy (i.e. Windows), a typical Romanian won’t be able to afford it, because that’s their monthly salary. My advice back then, to those who wanted to do the right thing, was to look at Ubuntu, which is free, friendly and completely legal. Now I can add OS X to the list. At $29, it’s certainly affordable for a Romanian, and for the tech savvy people, it shouldn’t be too hard to put together their own Hackintosh. Although not entirely legal, as pointed out in this comment, it’s still a better alternative to running a pirated copy of Windows.

Something I cannot condone though is the piracy of books, movies and music. Their price is affordable to the typical Romanian. A book costs somewhere between $10-30, often even less than that. A movie can cost anywhere from $1-5 to rent and $5-20 to buy — or you can subscribe to Netflix and watch all the movies and TV shows you want for $7.99/month. Music costs $0.99-1.99 per song. There is no excuse for stealing these. Most anyone can save 20-50 RON in order to buy a book or a movie, if they really want it, and anyone can most definitely spare 3 RON to buy a song. And yet, most Romanians don’t. They willfully elect to download pirated movies, music and books whenever they can.

When did it become acceptable to steal something just because you can’t afford it? If you can’t afford it, then you can’t have it. Save up for it and get it later, you’ll appreciate it a lot more than if you steal it.

Want to hear the sad part? It’s not the poor Romanians who are stealing books, movies and music. No, it’s people who have the means to buy these things in the first place, who could afford to part with a few RON in order to get the latest song from their favorite artist, or to see the latest movie. Their lame and legally/morally invalid excuse is that the artist/movie studio/writer is already rich or that everybody’s doing it, because society’s progressing and the old ways no longer work. Which old ways would that be? The need to pay for a service or a good? Well, when I can pay for my utility bills or my mortgage with a movie I downloaded from a torrent website, that’s when we’ll talk about the old ways no longer cutting it.

Since when did someone who has no idea about the hard work that goes behind making a song or a movie or writing a book and getting it published, get to make a judgment about the artist’s financial health or about whether or not it’s okay to steal their work? When did it become okay to steal? This is tantamount to stealing a piece of clothing from a store, or a chocolate from a supermarket.

These same people who complain they have no money then go out and eat at restaurants, they have vacations at sea side resorts, they spend their weekends in the mountains. That is hypocrisy. Ever since my wife and I came to Romania, I keep hearing there’s a financial crisis going on, and everyone’s complaining about how little money they’re making, but whenever I travel the country, mountain resorts are full, seaside resorts are booked up, restaurants are full, coffee shops are full, marketplaces, supermarkets, stores and malls are full of people, everyone’s barbecuing, there are tons of cars on the streets, and money’s flying left and right. Where’s the financial crisis? 

I don’t care if the law’s not up to snuff, stealing’s never okay. Romanians always brag that they’re good Christians. If they were good Christians, they would know the eighth commandment says, “Thou shalt not steal.”

Alexandra Fits in concert in Medias

A few weeks ago, we had the pleasure of attending a concert given by Alexandra Fits in Medias, as part of the seventh edition of the annual Medieval Festival. Alexandra sang French songs, in a style reminiscent of Edith Piaf and Georges Moustaki. We were thrilled to hear and see how good she was, especially since we’d never heard of her before.

If you do a search for her on the internet, only a few hits come up. In an interview with Mircea Hodarnau (from Radio Ring) after the concert, she admitted she needs to work on her internet presence, but knows little about how to do that. She has a MySpace page, where a few of her songs are posted, and there are a few videos on YouTube as well.

Thanks to a collaboration between Mircea Hodarnau and the nice folks at Nova TV, I’m thrilled to let you watch what we heard the night of the concert. They’ve posted the full length concert on YouTube, and I think you’ll agree that Alexandra Fits has a talent for music that more people ought to hear.

Let’s hope we see and hear more of her! I for one would love to buy a CD of her music, but she hasn’t yet published one.

YouTube and music publishers: a model for revenue sharing

One of the videos I uploaded to YouTube recently was identified as using copyrighted music. I’d used a song from the 50s, thinking that after 60 years, no one would give a hoot whether that song was being used as a track in a YouTube video. Still, it was identified by YouTube’s content ID program and pointed out to me.

Leaving aside the discussion of music copyrights in the US, which is absolutely insane, given that even 70-year old songs still aren’t public domain, I’d like to propose a model for revenue sharing among YouTube users and music publishers. It’s quite simple, and allows for easy licensing and monetization of music tracks. If implemented, I dare say it would also increase the revenues of music publishers quite a bit.

Here’s how it would work:

  1. Music publishers use YouTube’s content ID program to identify potential matches between their catalogs and YouTube videos, same as they’re already doing.
  2. Potential copyright issues will continue to be identified, same as they are right now.
  3. Videos won’t be restricted, as they are now, but will continue to play in all geographical locations, for every YouTube user, accumulating views.
  4. If the videos are successful and accumulate over 10,000 views, they will be invited into YouTube’s revenue sharing program.
  5. Once they start making money through that program, a portion of that money will go to the music publishers who own the licensing rights for that particular song or piece of music. I wouldn’t mind paying up to 25% of the profits from a video to a music publisher if I chose a particular song I loved for my video, and my video was successful. Besides, I wouldn’t have to actually “pay” myself. YouTube would automatically distribute the revenues accordingly.

The best part of this is that the process is fair, doesn’t punish anyone, and benefits all involved. If a video is successful, then it pays, and if it only gets a few hundred views, who cares if uses a song that should be licensed? If a tree falls in the forest and no one’s around to hear it, does it still make a sound? Does it matter?

Prosecuting individuals in this day and age, when the practice of adding songs to videos is so widespread, is terribly inefficient, and fosters ill-will. Why not use existing technology and platforms to add value, make money and foster goodwill?

The two areas where I see some tweaking will be needed are in the correct identification of music tracks, where the dispute/review process will need to be made easier and faster, and in the use of a sliding scale to calculate the percentage due to the publishers for the user of their songs, based on the song’s popularity and relevance. But those are minor things given the immense potential of this model to revolutionize the way we look at music copyright disputes on YouTube.

Music with veggie instruments

YouTube user heita3 from Japan has been making wind instruments from vegetables and eggs, and he’s been posting videos of himself playing those instruments online. So far, he made 50 videos, most of which are quite popular, having garnered well over 10 million total views.

In addition to playing the instruments, he shows people how to make them. Here are just a few videos that show the results of his interesting hobby.

(Carrot pan-flute, “Moon on the Ruined Castle”)

(Carrot ocarina, “The Legend of Zelda”)

(Apple ocarina, “Mary Had a Little Lamb”)

(How to make egg ocarinas)

(Butterbur oboe, “Lightly Row”)

(Radish slide whistle, “Grandfather’s clock”)

(The piece-de-resistance, Carrot ocarina trio, “Lightly Row”)