Does Drake Hate My DJ Mixes? Soundcloud Copyright Strikes vs DJ Mixes

In today’s article, follow an all-too-familiar tale: a new DJ’s promo mix, uploaded to Soundcloud, resulted in a copyright strike. Instead of ignoring it, guest contributor Elizabeth de Moya decided to dig into the current state of Soundcloud’s content recognition system – and how takedowns like these really work.

From Beginner DJ Mix To Copyright Strike

After a long foray into college radio and music journalism, I recently purchased a Pioneer DDJ-SB2 DJ controller, and the basic version of Serato DJ (with plans to upgrade later).

My idea was to start club DJing. I didn’t need a lot of production equipment to seamlessly blend music. I’m not an event promoter or nightclub manager, but the idea of making people dance and have a good time at the club was appealing. My acquaintance, a music director at a nightclub, suggested I start sending out mixes to promote myself more.

Recently I posted a DJ set on SoundCloud, full of dubstep and trap remixes of popular hip hop songs circa 2005 to 2015. It was a play on the “retro dance party” theme that a lot of clubs throw. It’s also older tracks – ones that a club DJ is “supposed to play” during an opening set, except the bangers.

The (automated) copyright strike notice from Soundcloud

About two weeks passed when I received an email from SoundCloud informing me my mix had been taken down. Allegedly, I infringed Universal Music Groups’ (UMG) copy rights when I included “Club Paradise” (RL Grime Remix) by Drake as the last song in an hour long mix. My club demo had received just 22 plays. I have a little over 200 followers on the platform.

A few days later I got another message saying that a strike had been issued against my account. If it happened a third time, my profile would be deleted from SoundCloud. It felt excessive – especially considering claims made by SoundCloud’s co-founder/CTO in a press release in 2016 – stating that they were now allowing DJ mixes:

“During the negotiations for SoundCloud Go, we achieved agreement with collecting societies like GEMA in Germany, making these problems a thing of the past – even for users who do not subscribe […] This means that DJ mixes are now legal and problem-free on SoundCloud. So this is a very positive news for DJs. Furthermore, mixes should not be interrupted by advertising.” – Eric Wahlforss (Translated from German)

Shortly afterwards SoundCloud representatives amended this statement, because some artists had not agreed to their new terms. But they never told anyone who these mystery musicians were, leaving everyone to infer somehow.

Just one of many annoyingly generic email exchanges I had with Soundcloud

Who Doesn’t Like DJ Mixes?

Who doesn’t like SoundCloud? What artist doesn’t want their music promoted by DJs? It might be a handful of famous people because no indie artist would oppose a music streaming platform that publicizes their music. Right? (I address this in a following section.)

Clearly Drake(‘s legal team) hasn’t subscribed to SoundCloud’s new terms, possibly because he is a very popular choice for remix artists who give away all his tracks. Taylor Swift would probably not allow bootleg mixes if she does not approve of Spotify. And of course there are a lot of old school artists that haven’t joined the digital streaming era because the format is still unfamiliar. Prince’s estate still won’t allow streaming versions of his music on Spotify or YouTube!

It would be simple enough to post a list of the artists that violate SoundCloud’s terms. But apparently they would rather delete everyone’s account and send out a lot of frustrating replies to emails. I would have taken the track down if they had just asked. I can make another mixtape.

I reached out to Drake’s legal representation at OVO Sound, but they have not responded.

Basic Copyright Law for Music

Of course, there’s a legal reason the mix tape was taken off SoundCloud but is still acceptable on Mixcloud. It all comes down to licensing rights and what platforms actually do.

When an artist writes a new song, they own both the original composition and the recording. But to enforce any ownership claims they have to register the copyright in their country. Most musicians also sign a deal with a music publisher such as ASCAP, BMI, GMR, or SESAC. It is the music publisher’s job to enforce the artist’s legal rights to the music and maximize profit, in exchange for a portion of the proceeds.

If you wish to perform or broadcast a song in public, you’re technically required to obtain permission from the owner of the song. Many venues do this by obtaining licenses from all the applicable music publishers. This applies to anyone in the business of sharing music, including background music services, concert promoters, dance clubs, hotels, restaurants, radio stations, retail stores, television networks, yoga studios and websites.

“If your business plays music without obtaining the necessary advanced permission from copyright owners, you are in violation of U.S. Federal Law.” – GMR‘s website

Mixcloud Vs. SoundCloud

Mixcloud is an internet radio platform exclusively for streaming radio shows and DJ mixtapes. They have a blanket music licensing deal with music publishers across the world. This gives them permission to stream any song in a DJ set. This deal is also why you can’t rewind mixes, include more than three songs by the same artist, or upload singles to Mixcloud.

“Mixcloud is a user-generated platform for internet radio. In the US we have licenses in place with SoundExchange, ASCAP, BMI and SESAC. In the UK we work with PRS, and are transitioning from a PPL license to direct deals with labels.”  – Mike Wooler, Mixcloud Content Manager

SoundCloud’s website states that they are “a platform for creators.” Artists upload their music to the website where it can be discovered, played, commented on, and shared by listeners. Their Terms and Conditions state that they’re a hosting website where users may only upload original content. It doesn’t specify anything about is SoundCloud’s agreements with music publishers.

Soundcloud’s Transition To Licensed Music Service?

We're testing Soundcloud's claims that DJ mixes are now allowed

Does SoundCloud actually have the right to stream bootleg remixes, mixtapes and podcasts? Many producers and DJs already do this every single day.

Last year, Future of Music Coalition (FOMC) write about how the announcement of SoundCloud Go was supposed to mark a transition from an unlicensed service to a licensed one. It was also supposed to bring in a stream of revenue for SoundCloud. According to the article, only “Premier Partners” are paid royalties for streams on SoundCloud, and those partners are by invite only. These include the three major labels as well as a handful of distributors.

Following that logic, UMG had nothing to do with my mixtape being taken down, because UMG signed a licensing agreement with SoundCloud in January 2016.

It was picked up by the site’s automatic content recognition technology provider Audible Magic, which determined that I had violated Drake’s copy rights because they don’t have a publishing agreement. There was other UMG music in that tape (they’re practically the Illuminati of music).

Also no, Drake does not hate DJ mixes – but his label does hate the unlicensed use of his music.

What’s A DJ To Do?

As of now the only option for DJs is to use a different platform. The problem is that SoundCloud gets the most organic plays. That is a click by a real person that was not the result of an advertisement. I actually prefer Mixcloud because the track lists are well formatted, and all the artists get credit. But no one is on Mixcloud playing random mixtapes, or not mine anyway.

What we have here is a music streaming platform that lets DJs upload songs, remixes and mixtapes — but only certain DJs, playing certain artists. They’re not willing to tell their customers which songs violate the terms of their agreement, or withdraw a strike unless you know someone at UMG. However, they are willing to terminate your account for uploading DJ mixes after they gave the DJ community the go ahead.

On May 30, Variety reported that Stephen Bryan, Chief Content Officer at SoundCloud, was stepping down. He was the fourth executive to resign in 2017, along with Marc Strigel, Chief Operations Officer, Markus Harder, Finance Director and Neil Miller, General Counsel.

Editor’s Note: We actually challenged Soundcloud’s claim that mixes were now allowed on the site by uploading 11 mixes that were previously taken down from the site. It’s been 7 months, and only one was taken down.
  • djbkmusic

    JUST GIVE UP ON SOUNDCLOUD ALREADY. The company was a godsend to DJs in the early days of DJTT, and has gone COMPLETELY downhill. They were struck with the unfortunate truth of copywriting lawsuits and reacted terribly. They have made some terrible business decisions, trying to charge both content creators AND users. You have to be extremely naive to choose Soundcloud Go over Spotify.

    Stick to Mixcloud and Youtube and avoid endless headaches. Just my 2 cents.

  • David Brown

    This seems to be something UMG in particular seems to get away with. They pulled this with youtube a while back (as I’m sure many of us now know some way or another). I wonder if they’re just basically bribing the distribution platforms for online music to implement the policies they can’t get the government(s) to sign into law.

    Let’s just be clear about the Drake thing, though: He might have a lot of given freedom about his brand and his business, but I bet this is much more about the legal strategy of his label; in fact, I bet any resulting legal matter would be with the distributor rather than the content creator in the first place.

  • Socratic Oath

    They just gave me a second strike for the same BS. Universal Music Group is a POS as far as I’m concerned. So is soundcloud for telling DJs they could upload dj mixes, then taking down dj mixes and giving djs copyright strikes.
    Soundcloud is only good for uploading your original music and podcasts. That’s it. If you want to upload dj mixes, you gotta do it through Mixcloud or HearThisAt.

  • ee

    Well, Drake is lame. So don’t play that shit.

  • Weslochan

    Curious now… Has anyone attempted to upload a Dj mix with tracks purchased only from Beatport or JunoDownload(use the most since Juno clearly outlines the DRM rules/usage of tracks by Djs)? I only mix techno on my podcast and I noticed that two of my test mixes from a while ago are still on SoundCloud(tracks from Juno/Beatport). I had one mix taken down due to one song in the mix and since then haven’t attempted to upload anymore mixes. I was always under the impression that SoundCloud was designed for creators/producers(Indie artist etc) but, some famous podcast go untouched on SoundCloud. Therefore, I mainly use MixCloud/Podbean/and Beatport(for tracks purchased at Beatport for selling mixes). I never had any issues with my iTunes podcast feed…. I might start using techno live sets also, but you do pay for submission.

  • Anthony Alonso

    I miss when SoundCloud was still a new platform. I miss when the platform was primarily original music. I hope it goes back to being that way. Long story short, use SoundCloud for production and mixcloud/beatport for mixes.

  • Rubzman
  • Stop using soundcloud for mixes? I mean.. I thought that everyone knew that was just basic.. It’s for sounds.. not.. entire mixes.. and however much they fix the brokenness it will still be broken for mixes..

    • Everyone knows that, legally, it’s not for mixes. But that doesn’t change the facts: lots of DJs find large audiences on Soundcloud that they don’t on other platforms, and some mixes posted to the site become incredibly successful, career-launching uploads.

  • After dealing with this BS and having my original account removed I will never trust them ever again. This article sums up exactly why I would never give Soundcloud another dollar of my money. They’re a mess and a joke of an operation paddling upstream ever since they got hit with those litigation suits years ago. While Soundcloud does have a good amount of organic plays for a person’s content they have nowhere’s near the amount of people that they used to have on that platform. I built a substantial following only to lose it after my three strikes. I definitely see someone buying them out. I feel it is only a matter of time.

    • Socratic Oath

      I agree and they did the same thing to me… well I have 2 strikes so far, so yeah I am not going to upload dj mixes to Soundcloud ever again. I can’t even set it up so people can download my ORIGINAL music anymore. What a POS service. I am contemplating not using SoundCloud ever again but I have so much of my original music on there.

  • acts_one

    I got my first strike over a year ago on a 3 year old mix. I basically gave up on Soundcloud after that. I was a huge supporter of it until the dreaded take downs. A lot of my DJ friends have also quit on Soundcloud, both popular and bedroom DJs to boot.
    Whats funny is I still have a mix up on Soundcloud. I think its avoided the take down because there were so much pitch variations in it. Kind of like how people avoid tracks getting pulled from Youtube… pitch it up/down just enough so it wont get caught….

  • LUNR WLF

    What I do to dodge the copyright infringement is name the final song in the Metadata

    Then switch the copyright from “All Rights Reserved” to “Creative Commons”

    which prevents the mix from being monetized

    WHICH MAY BE THE REASON DJ MIXES ARE BEING TAKEN DOWN IN THE FIRST PLACE

    • Setting the copyright on the mix only applies to YOUR new work, it’s not an indication of if you have the rights for tracks within the mix.

      Content detection engines like the one mentioned in the article are looking for works that they know the rights are not Creative Commons (no money in enforcing that) and issue takedown notices. And yes, I’ve seen (and had my own) mixes marked as Creative Commons taken down from SC.

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  • Juliane

    I said it before: I’m actually fine with Soundcloud taking down DJ sets if that is what the rights holders request. If they only would stop issuing strikes, at least for DJ sets. They are putting all the risks on the DJs while happily collecting the revenue and gains from such sets. Either give us a way to check beforehand if the tracks we include are covered by your agreements or take them down without threat of deleting our accounts where we have often put years of work into.

  • Stephen Nawlins

    Please stop calling those persons “Artists” an Artist does not worry about the Money but lives for the Art.
    Them, all they are about is Money. We might invent a new word to describe them and to separate them from real artists which would never forbid a DJ to Remix one of their tracks.
    As “Artist” is coming from Art, I suggest “Moneyist” word that would come from Money.

    • Elizabeth de Moya

      Well there are some moneyists that’s true.

    • We need another name then, for self-important human playback devices grabbing other people’s work, concatenating it and relabeling it as their own work without giving any credit to the original creators. Oh, I see, they already have a name: “DJs”.

    • Remember that the actual artists behind some of these tracks have almost _nothing_ to do with the actual implementation of the music rights and enforcement that follow. You might have a very talented, gracious, and open-minded pop musician who, if they had the free time, would get involved and allow anyone to make a remix of their hit songs. But usually, their label or distributor will manage copyright infringement detection – and will do their best to make sure no one gets away without paying for rights.