I have a new page here on New Music Strategies, which outlines some of the ways I can help musicians, and independent music businesses. Naturally, I’ve called it my Help page.

I was trying to think of a suitable picture to put at the top of that page, and I had a song stuck in my head. So I went to YouTube, found the video clip and embedded that straight in there.

But then I started to worry. Here I was using a song that was still under copyright on a page that is, for all intents and purposes, entirely commercial. In a way, I’m using the song a bit like a jingle. That can’t be right, can it?

Easier to ask forgiveness than permission
I gave this a good deal of thought, and I asked some very naive questions of a bunch of real experts.

Obviously, an embedded YouTube video has been uploaded by someone who has agreed to the terms and conditions of the site. They have undertaken that they have permission to do so.

The subsequent use of that clip – whether on a personal blog or a page specifically generated to drum up a bit of business (as mine clearly is), is apparently irrelevant to the story.

All the same, I’ve endeavoured to ask permission. And it’s not easy. The song in question is not ‘Help’ by the Beatles, as above. That’s just there to make a point (and I wonder how that got past EMI’s Digital Prevention Department).

The song I’m using is ‘I Can Help‘ by Billy Swan.

And it’s not even the original released recording, but a shorter, live acoustic version from a cable TV show in the late 1990s. Seemingly the video has been uploaded by that show’s production team.

So through the show’s website, I tracked down an email address, and sent a message asking if there was a way to get in touch with the composer and performers to secure their permission to use the song.

I’ve not heard anything back yet – and I am assured by people whose opinions I have no reason to doubt that it’s more than fine simply to go ahead – but of course, if the producers have or know of any reason not to use the song in that way, I’d be delighted to remove the link and offer my apologies.

There’s a serious point
However, this only serves to demonstrate the lack of clarity and the failure of contemporary rules to reflect, enable or inform contemporary practice.

Making the video available for embedding on YouTube theoretically gives me permission to go ahead and put that video wherever I like. And the onus is not, in this instance, on me to check to see whether it’s okay to do that.

And yet we live in a world where sites can be shut down, fined millions and its owners thrown in jail merely for providing links to places where other people have made content available. Apart from the fact that this seems entirely wrong and nonsensical – it’s just generally confusing.

And as a result, people are either reluctant to do anything at all with music – or they are radicalised into an active anti-copyright position and make a point of breaking even the rules they do understand.

And that’s a shame – because it means that none of this will ever really work properly for anyone (other than some Scandinavian lawyers). Especially if the rules on all of this stuff remain baffling, anti-consumer and geared towards prevention and lockdown rather than openness and usability.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Copyright is important – but it’s broken. It won’t be fixed until we throw away the old rules and start again from first principles. What, exactly, are we trying to achieve here and for whom?

There’s a less serious point
If you feel you’re a bit stuck in your music career, need a bit of advice with your music business, or need some help – and you think I may be able to assist – then take a look and see if my help page is of any use to you.

Look forward to hearing from you.

Anyone here actually know Billy Swan? It’d be great to get his take on this – and his clear opinion as to whether he’s cool with me using the song in this way – regardless of what the rules say one way or another.

That’s what matters more to me, to be honest.