who's afraid of Lemmy Caution Karaoke?

who's afraid of Lemmy Caution Karaoke?

If you have ever typed the title of a song in the YouTube search bar followed by the word "karaoke" in the hopes of putting your own special vocal spin on a favored tune by Mitski or Chief Keef or Sonic Youth, you have probably seen the fruits of Lemmy Caution's labor firsthand. Lemmy Caution (a pseudonymous account—I'll call him Lemmy, colloquially) is a longtime independent karaoke creator. His output predates YouTube, but YouTube is where I first encountered his work, which by this year comprised over 3,000 karaoke renditions of songs across a wide span of genres.

Lemmy Caution Karaoke - YouTube

Unfortunately, that treasure trove of karaoke videos is no more. On February 28th, Tyler, The Creator's apparent departure from the YouTube Content ID system resulted in multiple copyright removal requests to Lemmy's channel. These takedown requests triggered YouTube's three strikes policy, which permanently terminates a channel for receiving three strikes in the same 90-day period. A request from Lemmy to Tyler, The Creator to retract the copyright strike, which came with the promise to delete all content from that artist, went unanswered.

As of now, there doesn't appear to be any path to reinstating the channel. This deletion has created a colossal void in the online karaoke universe, dismayed a vast community of amateur singers, and sparked concern for operators of other independent karaoke channels.

my journalistic bias

This is of course where I disclose that I'm a huge personal fan of Lemmy Caution. I explain my background with his work a bit more in this interview I did with him for my newsletter last year, but suffice it to say, I'm a karaoke freak, and Lemmy's output is incredibly important to me.

Karaoke is one of my favorite modes of socialization. It has a natural vulnerability that allows people to connect with each other at an accelerated velocity ("Music makes the people come together" - Madonna), and it's a taste of rock stardom that I genuinely believe is good for the soul ("I live for the applause" - Lady Gaga).

The first message I sent my husband on the dating app we met on was about karaoke, and seven years later, we did karaoke with our guests on our wedding weekend. I have sang Weezer in Berlin and Shania Twain in New Orleans. Once I sang "Ray of Light" and twisted my ankle, and another time I sang "Ray of Light" and the KJ gave me a little microphone-shaped trophy. Every time I do karaoke, it makes me so happy that I wonder why we don't assign it in, like, schools.

the Lemmy experience

Lemmy Caution brought karaoke into the hands of the many. His iconic blue, red and yellow-hued videos, which notably feature helpful guidelines for not just what to sing but how to sing it—are perfect for people who might otherwise approach karaoke with trepidation. (When I had asked him about his signature style in our interview last year, he replied with characteristic humility, "It's sort of like a 'professionalism' thing to not give those cues and not expand words. It looks kind of janky the way I do it, but I like the janky style of it.")

The second Patreon Subscriber Karaoke Suggestion!!!

And his expansive taste pleases just about everyone. When our karaoke crew would visit the incredible Lion's Roar in Williamsburg for a night of BYOB hooting and hollering, at least a handful of Lemmy songs would always end up in the mix. Likewise when the pandemic hit and we started bringing a portable PA to Prospect Park for Covid-safe karaoke al fresco, Lemmy songs were crucial to our DIY setup. And when I see Lemmy videos in the wild, at The Drawing Room in Los Feliz or in a photo from a Twitter friend's party, it's always a Pointing Rick Dalton type of moment.

Lemmy even takes requests, an act of musical selflessness beyond comprehension. My heart inflated like the Grinch's each time he met one of my silly asks—"Ants Marching" by Dave Matthews Band; "Big Enough" by Kirin J Callinan, aka the 'screaming cowboy' song—with the wordless reply of a fresh link to a brand-new karaoke track. Once, when I made an unfulfillable request for Kanye West's Gone ("I tried to make that one before but the vocal reduction sounds really bad," he responded at the time), he followed up months later having found a different karaoke creator who managed to pull it off.

moi, singing "I Never" by Rilo Kiley at Lion's Roar

the problem

YouTube karaoke walks a fine line when it comes to copyright. Karaoke videos often have instrumental tracks that are identical to their original songs, having removed the vocals with special software. The current YouTube Content ID system automatically flags copyrighted songs, diverts ad revenue from the karaoke account to the copyright holders, and sometimes blocks the video in certain regions or sitewide.

The copyright holders of music outside of the Content ID system may also issue claims. This appears to be what happened with Lemmy's channel. After Tyler, The Creator vacated the Content ID system, multiple strikes hit Lemmy simultaneously: "One strike, then two strikes the next day," Lemmy wrote. (I emailed the press contact for Tyler, The Creator, as well as YouTube's press email to confirm. Neither party responded, but I'll update this on the off-chance that they get in touch.) This barrage of strikes completely locked Lemmy out of his own channel, leaving options for recourse limited to a Sony email designated for YouTube disputes.

Lemmy's deactivation has exposed a notable weakness in YouTube's copyright policy. If a creator gets three strikes in such quick succession, how will they be able to rectify the situation and keep their channel?

the solution(s)

CC Karaoke is one of the many karaoke channels who posted an explainer video in support of Lemmy Caution. I emailed them for their perspective on the karaoke copyright situation.

"The current default is to issue immediate strikes without any grace period to remove the track manually," they wrote back. "YouTube does allow artists to bundle multiple takedowns into one strike, and they also allow artists to provide the channel owner a seven day grace period to remove the video on their own. These are, however, optional approaches, and artists may still issue individual strikes for each track, all at once. Any of us could wake up tomorrow to a deleted channel."

I asked CC Karaoke what YouTube could do to improve their copyright policy and keep karaoke creators online. They suggested a longer grace period for copyright strikes, which would prevent all-encompassing deactivations like Lemmy's.

Karaoke Songs - YouTube

"Give channels 48 hours to remove the tracks before receiving a strike. This is a quick turnaround time that should satisfy any artist looking for quick resolution, but also be plenty of time for any channel owner who is diligent," they wrote. "Lemmy's struck videos were available without issue on his channel for years, so an additional 48 hours seems to be of little consequence."

CC Karaoke also brought up a method by which karaoke creators might further protect themselves, which to refute their copyright claims: "YouTube does offer an option to do this, and the artist is then given 30 days to respond and say that they are keeping the copyright claim. If they do not respond within 30 days, the copyright claim is released and the video ownership goes completely to the channel owner." Creators can claim karaoke videos as fair use, having an educational purpose. This method strikes me as reasonable, especially given that, to me, karaoke is a "transformative" use of music. It serves as its own entertainment entity rather than replacing the original song, and even drives interest to the original songs, benefiting the copyright holders in the end.

the day the music died?

Of course, refuting copyright claims isn't possible with the timeline that Lemmy Caution had to work with. I'm writing this blog post to hopefully contribute a little more more visibility for Lemmy's account deactivation, which I believe was an outsized punishment that has exposed flaws in YouTube's copyright policy. YouTube karaoke drives millions of views, and most YouTube karaoke channels operate without monetization, solely for the love of the game. I think it's in YouTube's best interest to figure out how to honor an artist's copyright while letting karaoke thrive on the platform.

A robust community of karaoke creators, including Peareoke and Scream Queen Karaoke, posted in support of Lemmy. A chorus of fans shared their dismay in the comments. "Lemmy is legend and this will definitely leave a gaping hole of karaoke web content," wrote one commenter. I agree. Lemmy made thousands of videos that lovingly guided singers through songs, even cutting out pesky 24-measure guitar solos or endless outros that might drag a performance down. He picked songs that no one else had covered. People would comment on his videos with requests, and he'd fulfill them. People would ask for his method for creating videos, and he'd share it without hesitation. His channel was a continuously renewed gesture of pure love for music and people.

I honestly hate writing about Lemmy's work in the past tense, like I'm eulogizing it. Hopefully that past tense won't last long.

Thanks for reading I Enjoy Music. If you like the blog, tell a friend. And if you feel like complaining to YouTube to revise their copyright policy, give it a shot? This is my first time doing this kind of 'awareness-raising' blogging and maybe it's worth a whack at it. Also, if you are in the online karaoke world and have anything you'd like to report, hit me up at ienjoymusicblog@gmail.com.