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Did YouTube Twist @sisario Article in NYT?

June 30, 2014

According to the Death and Taxes site, a “an official spokesperson for YouTube reached out to Death and Taxes in an effort to clear up what they see as ‘misinformation,’ and present the facts from their side of the story.”  Ah yes, that “official spokesman”, boy that one gets around.  Seems like we’re always hearing from a Google “official spokesman.”  I wonder if that’s a different person than the “Google spokesman”?

Let’s just assume that this interview was vetted and that the massive Google PR machine actually chose Death and Taxes for an exclusive “official” response to the antitrust complaint filed in the US by A2IM and in Brussels by IMPALA on behalf of their respective members.

Apparently what provoked this “effort to clear up what [YouTube sees] as ‘misinformation'” was an article by Ben Sisario in the New York Times.  Odd, you say?  Why respond to an NYT article with a relatively small blog post “exclusive”?  Well…it wouldn’t be the first time that a piece with an odd storyline first surfaces in the Abancay Times Herald, then gets picked up by Tribuna del Habana and eventually finds its way into a major Western newspaper and is reported as at least a rumored fact.

So according to Death and Taxes:

Clearly understanding the reality of the [complaints from indie labels and–perhaps–the antitrust complaints–] our spokesperson from YouTube admitted that about 5% of labels are unhappy. “It’s business. You’ll never get everyone to agree.” However, he was quick to add that YouTube does not negotiate with the trade groups in question, as they do not actually own or bring content to YouTube. He went further, expressing a concern that these trade groups were “misrepresenting their own members” in an effort to “make it sound like this [change in terms] impacts all indies.”

In other words, Google has flexed their dominant muscles on 95% of their label “partners”.  A little free advice to Google–when you’re already teetering on the edge of a massive antitrust action in Europe, I wouldn’t be mentioning that you have 95% control over the heated bidets at the Googleplex, much less indie label licensors.

But even so–the issue is not the number of labels, even if it is 5%, the issue is the popularity with users of the artists comprising that 5%.  This game of thimblerig with hiding the ball is really silly–isn’t this what the Brits call “silly buggers”?

And then there’s this little tell:

The fact of the matter is, if YouTube does not currently have an agreement with a label in a certain country, videos from certain artists on that label may be unavailable for monetization, or completely blocked depending on the specific agreement. This gets into content ID systems, as well as whether or not a label wants to have their content policed in a specific manner. The ideal example of this is Prince, who works voraciously to keep any of his music off of the service.

Now who would hold up Prince as an example in this case?  The EFF (of which Google is a major sponsor) played a large role in the “dancing baby” case that involved Prince.  Anyone want to put money on the identity of the “official YouTube spokesman”?  Fred von Lohman perhaps?  The former EFF big wig and current Google employee?

But here’s the part that caught my eye:

After reports of indie music being blocked on YouTube, indie labels and trade groups picketed Google and in a New York Times profile painted the company as a bully, saying the new system would be massively unfair to them and their artists…[The official YouTube spokesman] was quick to add that YouTube does not negotiate with the trade groups in question, as they do not actually own or bring content to YouTube. He went further, expressing a concern that these trade groups were “misrepresenting their own members” in an effort to “make it sound like this [change in terms] impacts all indies.”

If you read Ben Sisario’s article, you will see that is not what the story said.  Sisario reported on the A2IM and WIN statements about YouTube’s negotiating style or lack thereof.  A2IM and WIN are trade groups and have made public statements about Google’s high handed practices and A2IM and IMPALA have filed complaints on behalf of their members (IMPALA represents indie labels in Brussels and was involved with opposition to various music industry mergers over the years).

“the trade groups in question” don’t (and probably can’t) negotiate–as YouTube well knows.  Merlin does that negotiating and apparently has been trying to negotiate with YouTube.  So if A2IM and WIN are “misrepresenting their own members” what they are representing their members about is not the YouTube negotiation–which they are not conducting–but rather the antitrust complaints against Google.  If the complaints provoke an investigation of the antitrust complaints that involves “all indies”, then the European Commission’s ruling may well involve all indies in the market.  And it looks like the Commission may well be headed that way already according to Reuters.

“YouTube for instance, it’s another kind of activity where Google can also leverage their market power in search engine, and maybe this will give way to another investigation,” he said.

Almunia said one issue was whether to extend the ongoing case against Google following new complaints or to open a separate investigation.

Last week, music trade association Impala asked European Union antitrust regulators to intervene in a row with YouTube over its paid streaming music service, saying some conditions demanded by the company were anti-competitive.

Or as we say in Texas, “Oops….”  But you see how Slick from YouTube managed to slide the thimblerig around the table?

Here’s what the New York Times said about a protest at Google over the weekend:

Last week, the dispute spilled out into the streets of New York. On Saturday afternoon, a few dozen supporters of the Content Creators Coalition, an artists’ advocacy group, picketed Google’s office in Chelsea, playing New Orleans-style marches on horns and carrying signs like “Economic justice in the digital domain” and “What YouTube pays? Nothing.”

Marc Ribot, a guitarist who has played with stars like Tom Waits and Elvis Costello, summarized how the larger conflict over streaming revenue affected artists’ careers.

“If we can’t make enough from digital media to pay for the record that we’ve just made,” Mr. Ribot said, “then we can’t make another one.”

Here’s what the Death and Taxes post said (presumably what the “official YouTube spokesman” said):

After reports of indie music being blocked on YouTube, indie labels and trade groups picketed Google and in a New York Times profile painted the company as a bully, saying the new system would be massively unfair to them and their artists.

Not what Sisario said–at all.  The Content Creators Coalition is an artist group, not “indie labels and trade groups”.  It wasn’t the labels or trade groups who complained–it was the artists.

The artists themselves.

So why would YouTube want to put out that story?

Because they don’t know what to do about the artists who are finally getting the message that YouTube is ripping them off.  And it was so easy to blame the RIAA and now they have to work against a much more nuanced opposition from the workers who actually make the music they need to commoditize.  Because as we know, the Internet democratizes creativity.

And baby, democracy is a bitch.

 

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