Mu­si­cians are the losers in the YouTube roy­alty row

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Opinion - Brian Boyd on mu­sic

There was much cel­e­bra­tion in the mu­sic world when Google bought YouTube and promptly tight­ened up the copy­right loop­holes that once saw the ser­vice be­ing sued al­most out of ex­is­tence. Nine out of the top 10 most viewed YouTube clips are mu­sic videos – and some of th­ese have been watched more than 70 mil­lion times. Surely the roy­alty pay­ments for the artists con­cerned would be mas­sive since, un­der Google’s new le­git regime, all copy­righted ma­te­rial on YouTube had to be paid for.

The mu­si­cians are still wait­ing for their YouTube bo­nanza – and will con­tinue to wait for some time. And, when the roy­alty pay­ments do ap­pear, they will be con­sid­er­ably less than ex­pected. That’s be­cause the ul­ti­mate own­ers of the mu­sic video clips on YouTube are the record la­bels, which, still a bit be­fud­dled by new tech­nolo­gies, have yet to work out who gets what from the YouTube roy­alty stream.

Mu­sic videos have al­ways been a prob­lem for YouTube. Be­fore the site was bought out by Google, it was con­stantly fac­ing “cease and de­sist” le­gal no­tices from the ma­jor la­bels, which com­plained that the site was breach­ing copy­right by al­low­ing fans to put up videos of their favourite bands. When YouTube was sold off, Google did deals with a hand­ful of la­bels stip­u­lat­ing that record com­pany-owned mu­sic videos would be paid for on a roy­alty ba­sis.

YouTube has been as good as its word by send­ing roy­alty pay­ments to the la­bels. But now the mu­si­cians (or rather, their man­agers) claim that they have yet to re­ceive any­thing.

The con­flict lies in the na­ture of the con­tract signed be­tween the acts and the la­bels. Pre­vi­ously it was easy: the only sig­nif­i­cant rev­enue stream was from the sale of phys­i­cal CDs. But, in the down­load era, new con­tracts had to be drawn up spec­i­fy­ing a dif­fer­ent rate (al­ways lower, one can as­sume) for dig­i­tal sales. No one ever re­ally ex­pected YouTube to be­come so pop­u­lar, so no one seems to know what is due to whom. And the deal struck be­tween the ma­jor la­bels and YouTube has never been made pub­lic.

This isn’t the first time man­agers of mu­sic acts have been left out of the loop when it comes to rev­enues gen­er­ated for new tech­nolo­gies. The man­agers say they are still wait­ing for their cut of the mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar set­tle­ment that the mu­sic in­dus­try re­ceived from the then-il­le­gal sites Nap­ster and Kazaa.

Roy­al­ties from YouTube (even with 70 mil­lion-plus view­ers) won’t amount to that much, but the pre­vail­ing view among record com­pa­nies seems to be that YouTube is a pro­mo­tional tool, so the more hits video gets should mean more over­all sales of the track in ques­tion.

There are rum­blings among mu­sic man­age­ment as­so­ci­a­tions about strike ac­tion over their fail­ure to re­ceive YouTube roy­al­ties. The more bel­liger­ent man­agers see the de­ba­cle as em­blem­atic of how the la­bels deal with acts when it comes to new tech­nol­ogy rev­enue streams. Other man­agers, well aware of how mu­sic sales are still in de­cline, are just happy that YouTube is of­fer­ing such a global pro­mo­tional tool to their acts.

Many in the mu­sic in­dus­try still blame new tech­nolo­gies for the cur­rent per­ilous state of their busi­ness, but un­less they work openly with their signed acts to de­velop new mod­els of dis­tri­bu­tion and mar­ket­ing, the in­dus­try is merely has­ten­ing its own demise.

Jud­son Laip­ply’s Evo­lu­tion of Dance is the most pop­u­lar video on YouTube, with some

56 mil­lion hits

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.