Tensions have heightened between Facebook and its subscribers as the social network continues to remove cover songs and tracks featured in user generated content (UGC) uploaded to its site.

Last year, the world’s largest music publisher, Universal Music Publishing Group (UMPG) put increasing pressure on the social media network to remove content that contained protected material without UMPG’s consent.

The site is obliged to do so, amongst other reasons, under the “safe harbour” principles (under regulation 19 of the Electronic Commerce (EC Directive) Regulations 2002 in Europe), and which state that a site is not liable for UGC uploaded which breaches copyright, provided it is removed upon request, in this instance, by UMPG.

Subscribers have therefore had their content removed, faced account suspensions and in some instances had their entire profiles deleted.

London busker Charlotte Campbell recently posted a snippet on Facebook of a full length video uploaded to YouTube, covering Ed Sheeran’s “Castle on the hill”, only to have had her account blocked for three days after a notification on her profile read “you recently posted something that violates Facebook’s policies”.

Frustratingly for Charlotte and others, the site’s help page on why an account is suspended or removed notes “we received a report from a third party that the content you posted infringes or otherwise violates their rights”. The user cannot appeal or respond via Facebook, which states it will not act as adjudicator, and issues must be dealt with directly with the rights holder.

Whilst Ed Sheeran himself has apologised, tweeting “I’ll have a word and get it sorted”, the episode has damaged Facebook’s reputation as a platform to self promote, and has shown that the site trails behind YouTube whose own licence agreements have prevented takedowns and suspensions in recent years.

The fruits of YouTube’s arrangements can be seen via the site’s music policies page which showcases a directory of tracks and the respective rights attached to them. Users are given the relevant information on how they can use particular tracks in easy to read summaries. Since Facebook has no such agreement, the use of protected music is currently unavailable and is why Charlotte’s upload was so contentious.











A screenshot of the policies page from YouTube showing that a user may upload a cover of this song.

Content ID, YouTube’s audio fingerprint software automatically detects whether a protected track features in an upload and offers the rights holder two options: have the video removed or monetise by taking a share of the advertising revenue the video generates. The latter is usually preferred as the uploader and rights holder both benefit.

Whilst Facebook has it’s own audio fingerprinting software, released in 2014, such technology is used to allow users to tag songs they listen to and enable easier status updates. The monetisation option is still yet to be rendered and hopes are that a quasi Content ID formula can be developed.

Negotiations are however underway to reach a deal with rights holders, with Facebook hiring Tamara Hrivnak, a former music executive at YouTube. A broad licensing agreement would be mutually beneficial as Facebook would cash in on legitimately uploaded music, with the rights holders taking a stake of the income.

The hope is that Facebook may even mimic YouTube’s audio library initiative which allows users to pick amongst a catalogue of tracks for use in their own video projects, without the need to acquire permission from the rights holders.

Until a deal is struck, the takedowns will continue.