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An Interview with Andrew Shaw of PRS for Music on Negotiating with Google, a guest post by Jonathan David Neal

January 15, 2016

[Editor Charlie sez: In honor of the new PRS-YouTube license in the UK, we’re reposting this harrowing first hand account of the first YouTube/PRS negotiation.  For PRS members, there’s a good chance that this post has more information about your deal than you’ll ever get anywhere else because your rates are–you know–confidential and stuff.

This post is by Jonathan David Neal and originally appeared in The Score, the membership publication of the Society of Composers and Lyricists.  You can read his blog at Composer’s POV. PRS for Music is the principal music licensing body for performances of music in the United Kingdom and is roughly the equivalent of ASCAP, BMI and SESAC for UK residents.  Although this interview is from 2009, it gives you some insight into Google’s over the top negotiation tactics and how they use the withholding of content as a negotiation tactic in the press–enforcing your property rights is “censorship” don’t you know.  This is a long read, but worth every minute and is information you won’t get anywhere else.]

An interview by composer Jonathan David Neal with Andrew Shaw, Managing Director of Broadcast and Online of PRS for Music.

Background:

In the summer of 2007 PRS For Music, the UK PRO, licensed You Tube, owned by Google, for music use on a per download basis. That contract ended at the end of December 2008, at which time Google and PRS entered negotiations to renew the contract. In March 2009 while continuing negotiations Google, without warning blocked premium content access to users in the UK and few weeks later did the same thing in Germany. I interviewed Andrew Shaw (who is one of the PRS negotiators) in London on May 15, 2009. This story has strong implications for composers, songwriters and lyricists all over the world, since we are in a continuing struggle to maintain our rights as creators and copyright owners.

Neal: Please give us a short back-story to the [PRS’s] struggle with Google & You Tube

Shaw: Well, I think that to understand what is happening now you need to understand the history of where it all came from. You Tube as you know was started in December 2005 and was bought by Google in early to mid 2006 and that’s the time it really started getting some traction in the market place. The service had evolved from very humble beginnings as a way for private individuals to share their home videos. But over a period of time, the content that was being uploaded was copyright content rather than people having dinner parties and they were for a long time relying on their DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) protections and equivalent protections in Europe to say they had no liability for the content.

Neal: For the readers please explain DMCA.

Shaw: Digital Millennium Copyright Act, that is essentially the US law that says if you are a mere conduit you don’t have any  responsibility for what’s transmitted over your pipe provided that if someone notifies you that you are hosting illegal content, you take reasonable steps to take it down as soon as possible [Ed. Charlie: And without knowledge of infringment and if you terminate repeat infringers]. Google was saying, “Look we are just a big electronic notice board that some people around the  world decide to post things onto and other people around the world decide to come and have a look at these notices and we’ve actually got no idea what’s going on.”

Part of the business logic was that there is a huge community of users out here and “if we take the Google experience and knowledge of digital advertising sales and sprinkle some of that pixie dust onto You Tube, you’ve got excellent digital advertising sales married with a huge user base and massive traffic scale.” I think one of the reasons it hasn’t worked in that way is you’ve got millions of individual pieces of content that are all being viewed, the majority of which are being viewed a relatively small number of times.

The whole principle of Google’s advertising is it’s contextual advertising but they couldn’t actually identify what the content is, so if you tag a video as, for example, “Madonna,” You Tube or a computer has no idea whether that is a pop video or something about the Catholic church.

Advertisers were finding that adverts were appearing next to content that they weren’t quite aware of what that content was. They wanted their brand to be associated in certain places and not with others types of content. [Ed. Charlie sez: like an implied endorsement.] So the whole business model of advertising and targeted advertising required a much greater level of precision of knowledge of what was in the video.

Now as soon as you get into a level of knowledge about what’s in the video, by default you know what that video is and therefore, you start to lose your potential defenses that you are just a mere conduit and you don’t know what’s going on.

So there is a sort of process whereby, I suppose you call it “dancing around the handbags,” where they came to us and said, “We would like to have a license, but, of course, we don’t need one.” We said, “We’d like to give you a license, but we need to know what you’re doing.” They said, “Well we can’t tell you because we don’t know, because if we knew…” and there was a sort of Kafkaesque situation.

But we took what I think was a pragmatic view at the time and said look, at the end of the day we’ve actually  got two choices. We can either license You Tube and try and get what we believe is a fair and equitable remuneration for the works being used and pass that back to our members or we can go down the litigious route and sue them like Viacom had done or we can do nothing. We felt that doing nothing was sort of tacit approval that this was all acceptable.

We took the pragmatic view that licensing was preferable to litigation, for a number of reasons. First of all, getting into litigation was always going to be extremely expensive, extremely time consuming and take a long time to get resolution. The Viacom case proves that point. At the end of the day the outcome was very uncertain. An uncertain outcome might have been great, it might have been not so good and in a worst case, it could have been not so good with a knock on impact on all sorts of other areas of our business. We took the view that licensing was the best approach, so we licensed them.

We were the first society in the world to license You Tube, which was a major coup for us. But, I think that it was also, a major turning point for You Tube because it was the first time, that they had, actually, by default, recognized that they required a license, where if they didn’t require a license and they were so sure of that they certainly wouldn’t take one out. So, we licensed them in the summer of 2007. The license expired at the end of last year, 2008.

During the two years of You Tube’s license they were a model licensee. They did absolutely everything they said they were going to do, they went above and often beyond the call of duty in terms of trying to work with us to develop standardized reporting mechanisms, reporting tools, and we enjoyed a very good working relationship with them.

So, we’re now in a position at the end of 2008 where our license comes up to expire, we’ve got 18 months worth of data about what is actually being used on the service.

We’ve also seen a big transition in the content that’s been on the service over that 18 month period. They had realized that a very large number of videos being watched over a relatively small period of time, with no knowledge of what’s going on, was not going to generate big advertising revenue. Where the advertising money was going to be was in sponsorships and professional content. And so they started actively acquiring what they called seeded content, so they went to the BBC and did a deal to get clips of programs and previews. They’ve now expanded this to all sorts of different content owners, whether it be Hollywood studios, music labels, the White House, Downing Street, whatever.

[Ed. Charlie sez: The evidence against YouTube in the ongoing Viacom case and class action suggests that YouTube knowingly and purposely seeded their website with illegally obtained and distributed premium content for the purpose of profiting from the users attracted to the seeded content.]

A large proportion of the value of what is being generated by YouTube is actually around seeded content [Ed. Charlie: that is the revenue to YouTube], notwithstanding the fact that it accounts for a relatively small proportion of the usage. So you’ve got a sort of asynchronous pattern there. And, clearly music has been a very big area for them; they’ve done deals with all the labels except Warner Bros. and the labels have actively created channels for their artists on YouTube, where artist videos can be shown/promoted.

Now as far as we’re concerned, when you use a generated content, it’s pretty hard to value as far as the music, for instance, from the copyright point of view because you don’t know whether the music is in the foreground, the background, whether it’s incidental, whether it’s 30 seconds, 5 seconds or is it the whole point of the piece or is it just incidental to it. Then if you sort of move up the hierarchy of value, as far as music is concerned, you get into the professional seeded content where clearly there is some economic benefit being derived either by YouTube or the content user or both as a result of making that content available.

But still, music is a supporting ingredient to the finished created work. And then the “top end” of value from our perspective, is something like a pop video where music is actually the whole essence of it. If you then relate that to our regulatory framework, we have something called a “joint-online” license, which is our licensing scheme for digital music, and it was the subject of a  copyright tribunal decision back in 2007.

The copyright tribunal (UK Copyright Tribunal-similar to the US CRB) set a rate which was sort of equivalent to the American CRB, and the rate that they set for digital exploitation of music, pure music, like a pop video, was the greater of 8% of revenue or 0.22 pence per work streamed. So, every time a video was shown, we should have been paid at the greater of 8% or 0.22 pence.

The rates that they (the UK Copyright Tribunal) published in the summer of 2007, would only be applicable for a 2-year period, and it would expire in July 2009; they didn’t say what would happen after that. So, it is obviously incumbent upon us to do extensive market analysis and then come to a decision as to whether anything material had changed between then and now that would justify amending those rates or the structure of those rates, and if so to put that into place. So, we’ve been going through this process, and we are close to publishing what our new rates will be in the next few weeks. But YouTube, and Google has, and again, this is not confidential because they’ve said it publicly, said their position is a per-stream minimum for a service like You Tube doesn’t work, the only thing that works is a percentage of revenue. On a superficial level, their argument sounds very plausible. They say, “We’re trying to create this brand new business model, we’re giving exposure to all of these artists and these musical works, all we want to do is share in the revenues that we’re able to generate with the creators of those works. We absolutely believe the creators should be paid, but they should be paid a percentage of what we can make.”

Our view is that music has a value, irrespective of whether or not someone else is able to generate revenue out of it. If [music] didn’t have a value, then, [Google] wouldn’t be using it.

And it is very important for a number of reasons, including that the rights of creators are respected and they are remunerated a small amount of money every single time the music is played. There are a number of reasons why it’s important, one is, as I’ve said, it has a value.

The second is that specifically with respect to YouTube, any person who is uploading content has 3 choices when they upload that content. It gets fingerprinted and they can choose to monetize it, they can choose to not monetize it, or they can choose to block it. But, we don’t believe that if a third party makes a decision not to monetize content that it can be fair to the creator of that content not to get any sort of remuneration; a decision over which they (the creators) have no control.

The third reason is that with respect again to YouTube, there is a huge amount of crosssubsidization going on. Before the internet came along, there were lots of areas of commerce where as product or services become commoditized, what their provider does is bundle them with other products and services. So whether it’s handsets and minutes for mobile phone tariffs, whether it’s cable television and telephone and broadband connection from a cable TV provider, or whether it’s Google, whose business actually is all about the monetization of data.

To a large extent they don’t care whether the data they have about you comes from your email usage, your calendar, your search patterns or what you’re watching on You Tube. All of that has a value to them that is far greater than the sum of the parts. And therefore, simply looking at how much advertising is sold against one particular page of showing a video on YouTube is not an accurate and reflective economic analysis on which to base an appropriate remuneration for creators. That fundamentally, is a difference of opinion between the two of us.

We believe creators should be paid a small amount of money every time their music is used.

They [Google] believe that creators should be paid a percentage of what they can make in terms of advertising.

So, what happened after that is that we had been having our negotiations and had a meeting scheduled for, a series of meetings scheduled and a plan to try and come to some resolution, when on a Monday afternoon, I received a phone call from Google saying “We have made a decision that we are going to block all premium music content with effect from 6pm tonight.”

Neal: No notice? [Ed. Charlie sez: Welcome to the Googleplex.]

Shaw: No, this call came at 2:30 in the afternoon. This was clearly a very calculated and premeditated tactic on their part, because first of all, we had actually had a meeting with them the previous Friday where we had been consulting with them on what their views were for our new joint online license. The next negotiation meeting had actually been penciled in for the following day, a Tuesday, so it was rather strange that 2:30 in the afternoon, I get this phone call, and within 5 minutes of me putting the phone down, I started getting calls from our press office, who were receiving calls from every single media outlet in the UK, saying “We’ve heard that Google is about to block all music videos in the UK tonight-what have you got to say about it?”

Chris Smith: Big Day . . .

Shaw: Now, what they actually did was very highly targeted, and designed to create a much bigger story than the actual impact on the user experience. If you go on to YouTube even today in the UK, you may not be able to find every single version of a particular pop video, but I would pretty much bet that whatever video you wanted to find, you could find a version of it somewhere. So, they have not blocked all music videos in the UK. What they have purported to do, is to block what they call Premium Music Content. Premium Music Content by their definition is content that is either being uploaded by record labels or claimed by record labels, either some label uploaded or it seems someone else has uploaded it, they’ve owned it and they’ve said we own the copyright in this and therefore it’s part of our pot.

I think there are 3 reasons why they honed in on these two. Number one, it was the only part of the content set that actually disrupted other people’s revenue funds. So, if Joe Blog gets their video blocked, they get pissed off, but, so what? If Universal Music gets their video blocked, they stop receiving revenue every time that video is played.

So, the tactic, one has to assume, was to put pressure on other people who were being affected, to put pressure on us, to concede our position. So, one was it was disrupting other people’s revenue flows.

The second was that it was highly targeted, as I said, on the Premium Music Content, which actually accounted for a relatively small portion of all usage on YouTube. So, the videos concerned, and we don’t know exactly how many there are, because it seems to change on a daily basis, but it accounts for probably single digit percentage of total views or streams viewed on YouTube.

The third reason was that they will still at some point claim that as far as user generated content is concerned, (as opposed to) user uploaded content, because they are two quite different things, they would still want to fall back on some sort of “We’ve got no responsibility for this.” As soon as you start blocking something because it fits into a certain category then you have to know what it is in order to block it.

So, by leaving all of the user uploaded content alone they preserve their position with respect to DMCA protections and a lack of obligation to take responsibility for that content.

So they have blocked some of these videos, a few weeks later they did the same thing in Germany. They publicly said that the reason they did it was because they were unable to reach an agreement with us, although, we were still in the middle of a negotiation and we certainly did not ask them to take this action, and take content down.

They also said they felt uncomfortable being in a position where they were not licensed. Now, I find that quite ironic, given that the other 200 or so countries in the world don’t seem to pose such a moral dilemma for them and their content is still available there. Since the date of the take-down, or the blockage, I think March, about 2 months ago now, so early March, we have continued to talk to them and we do continue to talk to them, but there is still a fundamental difference of opinion over what they are responsible for and what is the appropriate mechanism to judge that.

Neal: At this point, you don’t really know what kind of effect it’s had? Have you heard from publishing members or record labels complaining that they’re losing money on this?

Shaw: No. I have to say we’ve been extremely pleased by the support that we’ve got from a wide variety of constituents and  stakeholders in the industry, and actually, not just in our industry, but across all creative industries.

This is not an issue between Google and PRS Music: this is a battle that we happen to have stuck our head above the parapet, being in a large territory that’s important to them, perhaps having been the first to license them, but, we are being made an example of in a battle that applies equally to record labels, it applies to journalists, it applies to book publishers and photography.

Any type of content that is being exploited over the internet, where there is a very fine line between a company providing an ability for consumers to find what they’re looking for, that other people have put there, and a company that is actually providing that content as a service provider. There is a fine line between data and/or information and content. If you go on to Google’s corporate website and look at their strategy file, their mission statement, one of their strat lines is “Don’t be evil” but another is there that is the corporate mission, (I can’t remember it verbatim) but it’s something like “to make all the world’s information available to anybody who wants to find it,” something like that. And that word, “information”, was probably put in there when that’s exactly what they did, but the line between information and content has become very, very blurred.

And if you look at what’s going on in the US with the book settlement, you look at what’s going on all over the world with newspapers and the Google news aggregation service and Google books as well, there are lots of areas where that line is becoming very blurred and probably being overstepped.

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Conclusion by Jonathan David Neal

This is just one example, in one part of the world of how some corporate giants are trying to devalue the work and content of creators, and ultimately respect of composers, and songwriters. It’s happening all over the world. Their mantra has been, “you need us.” However, they need our content, which is just as important. A second observation is, “if they devalue our intellectual property, they undermine the value of their own intellectual property, their services and everyone loses.”

It’s very short sighted. We as composers, songwriters and lyricists need to take an active stand against those who would devalue our work and demand respect for our craft and ourselves.

Note: On September 3, 2009 PRS for Music announced a new licensing agreement that covers music contained in videos streamed via the online video platform.  Premium music videos have now been reinstated to YouTube in the United Kingdom.

Thanks to Dan Foliart and UK Composer Chris Smith, for helping me make this interview possible. Chris sits on the board of PRS-MCPS and arranged the interview, which took place at PRS For Music’s London office in May of 2009.

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