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I have a YouTube video which uses a song that I found on http://freemusicarchive.org/. The website gives me permission to use the song under the CC 3.0 Attribution license. Appropriate credit is given in the video description. I have not had any direct contact with the artist. I live in the US.

A company presumably representing the artist has filed a claim on my video and ignored the proof of license that I provided (a link to the song on the website and a link to the license itself).

I don't expect it will come to this, but I found myself wondering - if they were to come after me through legal channels, would it be my responsibility to prove that my license is valid or would it be their responsibility to prove that it is invalid? Would a license obtained in this manner hold up in court?

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The first thing that has to be done (in court, or via lawyer-to-lawyer communication) is that The Company has to prove that they own the copyright. If they accomplish that, you can defend yourself by providing proof of a license to download and redistribute. From what I can tell, you cannot directly prove that, since the rights-holder did not give you the license. The issue is that a third party cannot impose a license on a work simply by putting it out there with a file that claims to be a license from the artist. So this brings in the Free Music Archive: they presumably have some evidence that the rights holder did indeed grant the alleged license, and may be able to provide proof. Your argument may be credible, in the sense that you had a good-faith belief that the item was so licensed, and the website would provide a basis for concluding that that belief is reasonable.

If the work was licensed, then the some rights holder would know that, but not necessarily the current one. Assume the artist made a recording, transferred the rights to Company A, who later sold the rights to Company B who is now coming after you. Artist may have licensed it when it was his, and forgot to tell A. A may have licensed it when they sold the license to B. Artist may have improperly licensed it after he sold the work to A (under the "I wrote it, I have the right to do whatever I want" non-legal theory). A might have improperly licensed the work after selling the right to B (maybe by mistakenly including it in a package deal, i.e. via bookkeeping error, rather than ignorance of the law). Or, they may simply have forgotten.

If this is a DMCA takedown notice, the notice-giver could just be abusing the system. But we don't know how you were contacted, so I'll leave DMCA out of this for now.

  • Thanks for the clear response. The issue is currently being appealed via YouTube's Content ID resolution system. If the appeal is denied, a DMCA takedown will automatically be applied to the video at which point I will have the option to issue a counter-notification. After some additional consideration, I believe the company in question is the legitimate representative of the artist based on the song page at the Free Music Archive. Your examples of how a license can be passed around have certainly offered a new perspective to consider. – Ken Austin Jan 25 '17 at 22:52
  • Actually, thanks for raising this issue since it made me see a flaw in my own plans for licensing a database. – user6726 Jan 25 '17 at 23:10

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