One of the most delightful acquaintances Rocks Off has made this year is Allyson Townsend also known as Ally ASL. A Baylor graduate of now teaching deaf children in Dallas, Townsend carved quite a bit of fame for herself after she began her quest to translate modern pop hits into American Sign Language in an effort to make the world of music more accessible to the Deaf and hard-of-hearing community.
Her efforts came to a halt last month when YouTube shut down her account and banned her from opening further accounts in response to challenges from Warner Music Group, Universal Music Group and others who maintained Townsend's work constituted copyright infringement. Thankfully, the Electronic Frontier Foundation interceded on her behalf and her videos were once again made available.
All seemed well, until Townsend emailed us to let know that she wasn't free and clear yet. Only one of her challenges was dismissed, she explained, while others still remain lodged against her.
Rocks Off: You're saying that YouTube hasn't exempted you from future challenges for the same work, just the ones that have already happened? Have they given you any guidelines or advice on how to avoid losing your account again?
Allyson Townsend: Correct. Universal Music Group only retracted their statement on one video, "Back to December." Any future videos are liable to get pulled, and the whole cycle repeated. YouTube has a three-strike rule, and I still have two strikes, because the first two were from Warner Music Group, which has yet to respond to any form of contact.
I have not heard of any information from YouTube on how to keep my account up, besides refraining from signing songs by WMG or UMG.
RO: You've mentioned perhaps suing. Has the EFF offered to represent you in court?
AT: This hasn't been brought up.
RO: Do you find what UMG and others to be doing to you to be persecution of the Deaf community, or just the usual corporate bullshit?
AT: Well, I personally feel like it's discrimination. They allow their songs to be accessible to American hearing citizens, but what about American Deaf and hard-of-hearing citizens? The only thing they can do legally is watch the music video and read the lyrics, but the actual song is not represented at all.
It's unfair and wrong and it needs to stop. What these music corporations need to realize is there is a huge Deaf/HoH population out there that want to access the music and they're unable to. That's where I come in. And my videos being pulled is basically saying, "Sorry, folks, you can't have access to our music because you are deaf." And that is discrimination!
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They either need to hire a professional music interpreter, or let me do what I'm doing.
RO: Have you approached UMG or WMG about offering your signing services?
AT: I have sent WMG messages before, but I have never heard back from them, and that dates back to two years ago. I have yet to find a contact to a live person for UMG.
RO: Have the actions taken against you in any way diminished your love of music?
AT: Absolutely not. Just made things a bit more difficult. Unfortunately for them, I love a challenge, especially for something I am so passionate about.
RO: In an ideal world, what would you suggest for the Deaf/hard-of-hearing community to be able to share the world of music?
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AT: To have each and every song interpreted would be the most amazing thing ever. I think it definitely needs to happen. Think of how crucial and influential music has been to the culture of America throughout history.
It's so important, and it's so wonderful, and everyone should be able to experience that.
Townsend will be in Houston over the holidays and plans to have a sign night/meet and greet at a local Starbucks. Follow her on Facebook for details.
Jef With One F is the author of The Bible Spelled Backwards Does Not Change the Fact That You Cannot Kill David Arquette and Other Things I Learned In the Black Math Experiment, available now.