Micro-licensing sites — where you add your music to an online library portal and licensing rights are granted for a small fee — have an allure. For one thing, they’re convenient as you merely upload your songs and fill in some info. The only other step is to cross your fingers and hope your music takes off on the site. Micro-licensing sites promote royalty in scale — that if your music is successful, it won’t matter that the license fee is $15 (or whatever). Thousands of those will add up.
But it’s common knowledge that it’s a 1% of 1% that have such success on these sites. And I’d wager these successful composers work super-hard at it, doing quite a bit more than crossing fingers.
You also have to accept that, in most cases, you’re losing complete control of your work when you supply music to one of these content providers. You don’t know who’s licensing, and you certainly can’t deny a license, and you won’t be able to gauge or benefit from a commercial entity making loads of money off your work.
Stock photo sites operate the same. Which brings us to this story reported in Petapixel:
It turns out a Newfoundland-based company called Islandwide Distributors (IWD) had licensed [Michael] Stemm’s photo royalty-free from Shutterstock for just $1.88. The company then turned around and made at least 500,000 units of products with it [and sold the products in Walmart stores across Canada] — Stemm learned this number after reaching out to the company. So while Stemm’s experience may seem unfair, it was likely entirely lawful and within Islandwide’s rights.
The salt on the wound:
Unfortunately for Stemm, he isn’t even able to withdraw the $1.88 he earned, as his account needs to reach a balance of $50 before he can see the funds.
Techdirt has no sympathy for Stemm:
Stemm said Shutterstock could license the photo. Shutterstock did exactly that. The fact that Walmart has more than 500,000 items featuring Stemm’s photo is probably unexpected, but if you really want to retain full rights to your creation, you don’t hand part of those rights over to a middleman. When Walmart licensed the picture from Shutterstock, it didn’t seek Stemm’s permission because it didn’t need Stemm’s permission. […]
It certainly seems unfair when a company can make hundreds of dollars from a $1.88 license. But there’s nothing unfair about a process that involves a voluntary relinquishment of control. Shutterstock can certainly find a greater market for someone’s photos, but no one should go into this relationship believing it will result in newfound personal wealth.
I agree with Techdirt’s sentiment here — when you enter into an arrangement with a stock photo library, or a music library, or the record label that will own the rights to your songs, you need to accept what you’re getting into. Moving forward, any mistake is but a learning moment as you got yourself into the mess. According to Petapixel, even Stemm admits he didn’t read Shutterstock’s licensing terms before clicking ‘submit.’
That said, I do believe these sites could do a better job explaining what’s in store for content creators and to favor realistic expectations. The idea that an artist will make ‘easy money’ through a micro-licensing site supports a rare exception. The artist might have better luck buying lottery tickets. Just like the lottery, the allure is strong — I’ve certainly been tempted, by both these licensing libraries and the lottery. And it’s okay if you play — just understand the agreement that you’re entering, the potential outcomes, and how frustrating it is to be in Michael Stemm’s position.
A couple of days ago I examined the “Blurred Lines” decision, potentially allowing lawsuits against artists who acknowledge and transmit their influences ‘too much.’ I find this precedent dangerous, but it also got me thinking about the line between influence and intentional mimicry. There are many examples of music made to sound just like another artist purely to capitalize on the identity or success of that artist. The advertising world can be especially naughty in this practice. Recently, Eminem won a case against a New Zealand agency that used an intentional copy of “Lose Yourself” in a political advert. Licensed from a music library (which is a whole other topic), the soundalike track was even titled “Eminem Esque.” There’s no question of the intention there.
Tom Waits has a particularly tough time with imitation. I suppose it’s the price to pay for being such a distinctive, one-of-a-kind figure. Today I Found Out just released a video on Waits’ battles with advertisers and, though I’ve followed the Fritolay fracas, there’s a bit in here I didn’t know. I didn’t realize Fritolay had the nerve to have the soundalike sing a Tom Waits song in the ad (I am assuming Waits had an approval clause in his contract that didn’t allow his label to license the original recording outright). And, even more curious, I didn’t know that, despite Waits’ high profile victory over Fritolay, agencies continued to mimic his voice in ads, creating
I admit that I don’t understand Tom Waits’ lawsuit over his songs being used in a horse circus, as mentioned near the end of the video. A ’horse circus’ sounds like the most Tom Waits thing ever. There must be something more to that. A compulsory public performance license should allow any of his songs to play in the venue, right? My guess is it was more about how the show was promoted, with an implication of Waits’ endorsement or involvement, rather than the actual musical content.
I’m also thinking about artists that refuse to have their music used in advertising. It’s amusing to explain to younger songwriters that there was a time — not that long ago! — when it seemed the majority of artists wouldn’t allow their songs used in ads. Mindsets have certainly changed, and you’ll get no judgment from me as far where you might lean. But there is something admirable about Waits’ position, though he’s able to earn income from a revered catalog and multiple vocations. I know the Beastie Boys are advertising hold-outs, too (and have had their own headaches for holding this line). Who else is left? And except for that handful of idealistic punk rockers, are there any newer artists or not established (i.e., well-to-do) artists that are also non-starters with advertising music?
ICARO Paragliders has used “Floating In The Clouds” by 8DSync artist Eros in their latest video, which was filmed among the wonderful scenery of Macedonia. The special way that the song has been edited to match the video – including a gusty breakdown just past the midsection – really makes this video come alive. Based here in Orlando, Eros is one of our busiest and most requested artists. Check out more of his available catalog on the 8DSync site.
The emotional instrumental to JJ Bull’s “121 Miles” is used in this great Burton Snowboards video, licensed through 8DSync. Professional boarder Kelly Clark talks about her preferred boards and gear as Bull’s music sets a nostalgic-then-uplifting mood. JJ Bull is a folk-based artist from Scotland, and we love his distinctive and evocative style … be sure to check out more of his music on our 8DSync site.
Licensed through 8DSync, Tom Appl’s “Badibidab” is a deleriously upbeat earworm of a tune, and it makes a fine soundtrack for Vallarta Adventures’ new video advertisement showcasing the tourism company’s ‘beach hideaway’ at Las Caletas (once the private home of film director John Huston, as pointed out in the YouTube description). We’re loving how the music drives the video and gives some enhanced expression to the gorgeous imagery. You can check out more songs by Tom Appl on our 8DSync web site.