Business Interviews Labels & Publishers

Q&A: Andy Chatterley, MUSO

By | Published on Wednesday 4 September 2013

Andy Chatterley

Stats about the number of takedown notices now being issued by the music and other content industries routinely appear in the headlines these days and, arguably – even if artists and labels would rather cyber-lockers and file-sharing services policed their own servers for copyright infringement – the constant monitoring of the net by labels and issuing of takedowns where tracks have been posted without permission is now simply an standard element of copyright management. Companies like MUSO were set up to help labels, and especially independents, with that task, by automating much of the process.

And while the industry might want to lobby for new laws to put more responsibilities onto the cyber-lockers et al, MUSO says that it has found forming positive relationships with these companies has been most productive, with takedown notices more efficiently enacted, and some services simplifying the process for rights owners even more. Last month MUSO announced such a partnership with vKontakte – or – the Russian social network that was, until recently, a top target for the music industry’s anti-piracy police.

CMU Business Editor Chris Cooke spoke to MUSO co-founder and Director Andy Chatterley to find out how the service works and what the deal was about, and to discuss the pros and cons of making takedowns notices a routine part of a label’s business.

CC: Tell us a bit about the history of MUSO. When and why was it set up?
AC: We originally set up MUSO as an aggregator of online popularity. In its first incarnation, MUSO pulled together stats on music artists and looked for identifiable trends. We would crawl blogs and social media and look for mentions and monitor sentiment and apply scores for artists and bands and organise them in a chart.

However, in late 2009 an album I was working on started leaking about two weeks before release, and so I embarked on the painstaking task of manually trying to find the leaks and issuing DMCA takedown notices to the cyber-lockers hosting the files. The label was a member of [record company trade body] the BPI, so we asked them for help. Which seemed basically pointless to me, as the few emails they did respond to didn’t actually help us remove the illegal files.

I remember being angry at the lacklustre anti-piracy service the BPI then offered and realised someone else needed to do something, and as a consequence MUSO was born. We realised that we could apply a lot of the technology we had been developing for the previous few years to the task of tracking illegal files, and our tech team quickly developed the takedown service element.

They say necessity is the mother of invention, and MUSO felt like a very necessary technology to help rightsholders deal with the problem of piracy. As a producer and writer I can tell you one of the worst feelings I experienced was the first Google alert telling me that my album had leaked. When you spend six to nine months working on a record, the last thing you want is for it to leak. It’s like being burgled.

CC: As you say, helping rights owners spot when their content has been posted online without permission, and getting that content removed, is now your core service. How does it work exactly?
AC: We track billions of piracy web pages on an ongoing 24/7 basis looking for our rightsholders’ releases and content. Our system is organised by a complex algorithm that scores each link it finds. If the score is high enough, we return it to the client’s MUSO dashboard as a possible illegal file. The rightsholder reviews the files, and selects those they want to takedown. We then action a takedown notice to the relevant site or service. We also now work with many film, publishing and software rightholders as MUSO works in the same way for all types of media.

CC: What kinds of websites and online services are you monitoring?
AC: When we launched in 2010 we only focused on cyber-lockers, but now we also monitor torrents and streaming sites, in addition to grey mark sites like, YouTube, SoundCloud, eBay, Amazon and Vimeo etc. We are effectively like Google but only for piracy, we monitor billions of web pages that have links to pirated or copyright-protected material.

CC: Is the list of services monitored constantly evolving?
AC: Yes, it’s a self-populating database of sites. It grows by millions of web pages each week.

CC: When a client requests a takedown notice be issued, do the monitored services pay attention?
AC: Yes, we will only return results to our clients if it’s hosted on a compliant site. Most sites are compliant because they are making so much money from advertising and selling premium membership it is in their best interests to stay within the law. A site like a cyber-locker is effectively saying “we are not responsible for what our users upload, but if you let us know when something has been uploaded that is illegal we will remove it”. Obviously there are exceptions to the rule, like The Pirate Bay, but we won’t suggest to our users to issue takedowns to The Pirate Bay, that’s a whole different issue.

We have always tried to develop relationships with the hosting companies, because it’s ultimately a person who controls whether the DMCA is upheld and the content comes down, and if you initially approach these people with some courtesy then you are much more likely to develop a good working relationship, which means a better result for the rights holders. is a good example of a site that listens to our DMCA notices, where I know they completely ignore other industry bodies’ requests.

CC: You’ve mentioned the DMCA takedown notices – ie takedown requests as defined in America’s Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Obviously American copyright law isn’t technically relevant outside the US, but has the DMCA system now in essence become global?
AC: Yes, generally we use the DMCA system, because it has sort of become the standard internationally. Though we have instant takedowns in place with a lot of hosts, where we have been trusted with direct admin access to remove content automatically without having to send a DMCA notice.

CC: It’s interesting you have that extra control with some services. The big rights owners are sometimes accused of issuing takedown notices when they shouldn’t – eg when they don’t actually control the rights at a given time or in a given territory. How do you stop that sort of thing happening?
AC: We have numerous checks and balances in place behind the scenes within the MUSO algorithm, and once these have been filtered through we then present the results to the client who ultimately holds the responsibility to check the files and where we found them, if they are unsure, before the takedown is enacted.

CC: Tell us about the recent announcement regarding, why is it a significant development?
AC: is the Russian Facebook with 200 million account holders. It’s big! allows its users to share their entire audio engines, so effectively you have a database of 200 million people’s MP3 collections available for streaming via

Though the real problem for our rightsholders is that also allows hundreds of other MP3 sites to power themselves entirely on the network. Sites like mp3juices – often ranked on the first page of Google – launched overnight with this huge library at its finger tips. has been a site that notoriously wouldn’t play ball with the rightsholders. However we worked with them and their lawyers for about twelve months to get them to agree to action our takedowns and we are very pleased to be able to now offer a takedown service to all our clients as standard.

CC: How will the monitoring of work, is it different than the way you usually monitor sites?
AC: Unlike a lot other cyber-lockers or platforms we are able to directly search their massive audio database on a track-by-track basis for our clients’ releases. That’s different from most sites because we are not crawling, we search them directly.

CC: You mentioned that some labels have had issues with in the past, though they do seem to now be coming round. Why do you think they are being proactive now?
AC: I can’t speak for other rightsholders’ experiences, but we found to be willing to work with us. The technical integration was actually harder than the agreement to remove the files.

CC: Some rights owners don’t like having to constantly monitor the web – there is the argument that the big online platforms should be doing more themselves to ensure they don’t unknowingly distribute unlicensed content, even if US law says they don’t need to. But is this kind of monitoring now just part and parcel of being a rights owner?
AC: As I said, cyber-lockers and similar sites will always argue that they are not aware of what is being uploaded to their servers at anyone time, but that if you tell them something is there illegally they will act.

Whether this is correct or not is certainly a contentious argument, nevertheless we do find very high compliancy from cyber-lockers to remove content once the takedown is issued. We also remove a lot of content from Google and YouTube etc, who effectively operate in exactly the same manner. It may not be perfect, but as long as the sites do remove links or content when asked, then at least it is working. The hardest aspect of what we do is not removing the files, it is finding them.

CC: Is it expensive?
AC: No, it’s not expensive. We never wanted to price the indies out of the service, so you can protect an entire album or, in fact, an entire artist’s catalogue from only £12 per month.

CC: Does constantly monitoring the unlicensed use of content in this way have a tangible positive impact for rights owners? Is there not an argument that labels might be better off just ignoring the piracy and looking for alternative revenue where they can find it?
AC: It’s really up to the rightsholders. If they want to remove illegal files, we make it very simple for them – it probably only takes two or three minutes a day. And we have been monitoring some really high profile clients’ releases and are starting to see very interesting trends that correlate to robust anti-piracy practices and continued sales.

Of course it is good business practice, on the whole, for rightholders to look at all alternative revenue options, but there are a whole host of forgotten people further down the music industry food chain that are rarely mentioned, whose livelihoods have been decimated as a direct result of dwindling record sales due to music piracy. The PR companies, record pluggers, recording studios, engineers, producers, mastering houses and so on. It is harder for them to look for alternative revenue when their budgets have been slashed dramatically. And I think in the long run, if the industry doesn’t adopt good anti-piracy strategies, this trend will only continue.

And rights owners can’t rely on industry bodies to solve this problem for them, because they too have dwindling resources. When we search non-clients’ releases it is often shocking to see how many files we can find that no one is removing or effectively dealing with, and that’s why we are proud of what we are achieving for those rights owners we do work with. MUSO came about from trying to solve a problem that the music industry faced and indeed is very much still facing, and it is very exciting that we are seeing tangible and measurable effects on sales, and the ongoing fight against online piracy.