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There are a lot of people who dislike the wave of lipdubbing that has swept the internet. And if you're looking for someone to blame, Vimeo is a pretty good target. The online video portal helped launch the craze and hosts a plentiful library of user generated videos that feature individuals enthusiastically lipsynching to popular songs.
But someone has officially taken a stand against the practice of lipdubbing. Capitol Records has decided to sue the site for using its copyrighted content. They have legal grounds — Vimeo actively hosts and encourages its users to post videos that often infringe record label copyright. But Capitol Records could lose a lot of social capital by winning this lawsuit.
The label is suing both Vimeo and its parent Interactive Corp. for copyright infringement. According to NewTeeVee:
"A few years ago, video-sharing site Vimeo hit the big time with a viral video of its employees lip-syncing along to Harvey Danger’s Flagpole Sitta after work one day. Now Vimeo and parent corp IAC are coming under legal attack for promoting the creation and distribution of these so-called lip dub videos in the form of a suit filed by Capital Records, which is seeking retribution for what it alleges is copyright infringement."
According to the lawsuit, Vimeo “induces and encourages its users to upload… audiovisual works,” which it then disseminates virally throughout the Internet. Capitol Records alleges that the company’s staff actively participates in “making, selecting, commenting on, and at times choosing to delete” audiovisual works, which include the label's own copyrighted recordings.
Lipdubs often take songs from old albums and give them a new life. The Vimeo staff video below is a great example of the lengths people go to to choreograph group lipsynching that can be shared online:
Clearly, it is good for artists to have consumers share their songs on the internet. Sean Nelson, the frontman for Harvey Danger, recently emailed Vimeo cofounder Zach Klein to say:
"That Flagpole Sitta video made me incredibly happy, just when I thought there was NOTHING that could make me listen to that song again. A thousand thank you’s."
However, engendering good will online doesn't neccessarily foster record sales, which is a fact of which labels are painfully aware.
This lawsuit follows a string from labels that have lashed out at individuals or web entities that upload user generated videos with their music attached.
While lipdubs are generally used for non-commercial purposes, the fact that Vimeo encourages users to create content with copyrighted material and has posted some of their own videos with such content could be problematic in court. Especially because the site has used such popular content to grow its reach and profit.
But while Capitol's suit does have some merit, they'd be better off partnering with Vimeo to have some sort of revenue sharing agreement with the site or develop a deal along the lines that YouTube has with the record labels. Both through its dedicated music video channel Vevo and its ContentID program, YouTube helps labels find their copyrighted content on the site and profit from it.
Also, while viewers who watch these videos may not go out immediately and purchase the songs, it's important to note that they're not really using the videos as ways to listen to music they don't want to pay for. (Meaning that lipdubs are not actively losing money for Capitol Records.)
Vimeo may not be as big a portal as YouTube, but they could easily set up a revenue sharing agreement that could bring in some money for music creators, especially when the videos go viral. Or, the company could encourage its users to use music from labels that it has partnered with.
As far as song sales go, it's not clear that lip dubs will help grow revenue. But shutting down user generated content that celebrates musicians online is clearly not going to do that either.
It would be better for both companies if they could negotiate some agreement outside of court, even though curtailing the practice of lipdubbing might be a general social good. As we've learned, lipdubbing is a freedom that some people clearly don't know how to use.