A young cartoon girl wearing large headphones leans over a dimly lit desk. She scribbles in a notebook. Beside her, a striped orange cat contemplates a beige urban landscape.
The Lofi Girl is an internet icon. The animation is broadcast on a loop on the YouTube stream “lofi hip hop radio — beats to relax/study to”.
It’s a 24/7 live stream of low fidelity hip hop music – or lofi for short.
“I would say that lofi music is the synthesis of golden age rap aesthetics with Japanese jazz aesthetics which is then put through this lens of nostalgia,” says lofi student and artist Hixon Foster. .
He describes listening to lofi as a way to escape. Some songs are lonely or melancholic, others remind him of his school days in Michigan and his homework while listening to tunes.
The genre has become increasingly popular in recent years. There are countless people making lofi music, fan art, memes, derivative streams, and Halloween costumes.
Basically, Lofi Girl is everywhere. And with nearly 11 million people subscribing to the channel, the Lofi Girl stream has been the go-to place to find this music.
But last weekend, she disappeared. YouTube had removed the stream due to a false copyright claim.
The fans were not happy.
“There were sides that were confused and sides that were angry,” Foster said. “I’ve mostly seen, at least through the Discord lofi, various users going, ‘Oh my God, what’s that? What’s really going on with that?'”
YouTube quickly apologized for the mistake, and the stream returned two days later. But this isn’t the first time musicians have been unfairly shut down on YouTube.
“There have been many examples of copyright working against the ideas of art and artistic evolution,” Foster said. “It feels like a lot of legal practice is aimed at stifling artists, which is interesting when the main idea of them is to protect them.”
The Rise of False Copyright Claims
Lofi Girl came through the ordeal relatively unscathed, but smaller artists who don’t have huge platforms may not be so lucky.
“They are at the mercy of people sending abusive takedowns and YouTube’s ability to detect and filter them,” said Cornell University law professor James Grimmelmann.
He said false copyright claims were commonplace.
“People can use them for extortion or harassment or, in some cases, to file claims to monetize someone else’s videos,” he said.
YouTube receives so many copyright claims that they can’t carefully assess whether each one is legitimate, Grimmelmann said.
They leave it up to the artist to prove the claims wrong – sometimes in court – which can be a lengthy process.
Grimmelmann said it’s up to Congress to fix copyright law so it works better for artists. Current laws encourage YouTube to err on the side of removing artist content, rather than being specific in enforcing copyright.
“We ended up with this system because in the 1990s, when the contours of the Internet and copyright were still in sight, it was the compromise that representatives of the copyright and the Internet have developed,” said Grimmelmann.
“It’s a compromise that didn’t destroy anyone’s business and allowed artists to get their stuff online,” Grimmelmann said. “And there hasn’t been the urge to try to overturn that compromise because someone’s beef will be gored if they do.”
Luckily, Lofi Girl and her millions of subscribers managed to grab YouTube’s attention quickly and fix the problem.
For now, lofi fans can get back to relaxing and studying. Lofi Girl will be there with you.