YouTube Multi-Channel Networks (MCNs) Machinima and Collective Digital Studio have accused Freeplay Music of extortion.
For the past few years, Freeplay has been a popular source of royalty-free music for creators on YouTube. However, after a quiet change to their terms and conditions the company has been accused of ‘copyright trolling’ attempting to force MCNs to pay for something that was given to their creators for free.
Machinima’s complaint, which was filed with the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, reads: “After luring in unsuspecting consumers with the promise of ‘free’ music, Freeplay then encourages these consumers to use the music, including in their own YouTube videos… Freeplay then traps the consumer by demanding that he or she pay outrageous ‘license fees’ for the use of music that was supposedly ‘free.'”
The core of this issue lies with Freeplay’s terms and conditions, which clearly state that: “A Free Personal YouTube Use DOES NOT include Multi-Channel Network managed channel uses.” However, that statement did not appear in the last archived version of that page just six months ago. This means YouTubers signed with an MCN would be required to pay Freeplay $250 per track, per year. Since many popular YouTubers started out with a personal channel before monetizing their videos and signing to an MCN, some of Machinima and CDS’s biggest partners could be on the hook for thousands of dollars every year.
Bryan Freedman, the attorney representing both Machinima and Collective DS in their lawsuits, claim Freeplay is compounding the issue by refusing to identify which videos breach their terms so they can take them down. “Freeplay purposely does not issue take-down demands and won’t tell you where the alleged infringing content is because they would rather try to leverage an extortionist settlement,” he said.
Machinima was one of the first MCNs, and is backed by the likes of Google and Time Warner. Collective Digital Studios was recently acquired by ProSiebenSat.1, one of the largest media groups in the world. Perhaps Freeplay saw an opportunity to make a quick buck?
Music licensing has been an issue with online video for many years, and in anticipation of a dispute like this, many MCNs like Maker Studios and Fullscreen either launched, acquired, or entered into multi-year licensing agreements with music service providers to give their partners access to a diverse library of music while avoiding issues like those Machinima and CDS are facing today.
“When unscrupulous parties refuse to play by the rules and seek to take advantage of creators, we have and will fight for the community’s ability to entertain audiences,” a spokesperson for both Machinima and CDS told Deadline. “Beyond this sentiment, we will not be commenting on this pending litigation.”