What if Legacy YouTube Licenses Went Away? Will Artist and Songwriter Opposition to YouTube Make it Easier for Labels and Publishers to Step Away from Licensing?

[This post first appeared in the MusicTechPolicy Monthly Newsletter for subscribers to MTP]

As manager Irving Azoff noted in his “Open Letter to YouTube“, the music community has never been more united against Google’s misuse and abuse of the government mandated “safe harbors”.  When mixed with Google’s dominant market position, highly litigious business practices and massive lobbying effort, negotiating with Google is not really negotiating–one of the main reasons all such activities are cloaked in nondisclosure agreements.

In response to Mr. Azoff, one of the few in the music industry who has stood up to Google, a YouTube star asked why does the music industry keep taking the money from YouTube if it’s so awful.

That’s a very, very good question and I’m so glad he brought that up.

What typically happens in the last few YouTube negotiations is that Google gradually ratchets up the advances and eventually the labels and publishers acquiesce.  What’s different this time is that the deals are being made in a highly public way–the artists and songwriters who ultimately call the shots contrary to popular myth are going to have a hard time relinquishing their public positions against Google and YouTube in return for thirty pieces of silver.

The changes that artists and songwriters require at Google go far beyond money.  What is needed is for Google to change its behavior, something that Google refuses to do because it’s business model is built on an extreme interpretation of the outmoded “notice and takedown” provisions of a 1998 statute that is a massive failure largely because of Google’s misuse of those provisions to Google’s great profit.

To the extent that lawmakers know the details of YouTube’s operations at all (and many don’t know the fundamental fact that Google owns YouTube), many lawmakers believe that Google provides the tools to block the unauthorized use of music on YouTube.  This is principally through Google’s “ContentID” and “Content Management System” applications.

These applications do not work very well, despite Google’s well cultivated reputation for solving Internet problems.  DMCA abuse is a problem that Google created due to its selection of a legacy business model.

What some lawmakers are now finding out for the first time is that Google does not make these tools available to everyone, but instead YouTube has a chicken-and-egg definition of who gets these tools that tiptoes around an essential fact–you only get ContentID if you grant a license to YouTube.  And if you don’t?

Then thanks to Google’s interpretation of the safe harbor, you have to monitor YouTube 24 hours a day, 7 days a week if you want to stop the infringing use of your work.  And don’t forget–even if a copyright owner grants the license, they have little control over how it is used in “user generated content.”  For example, Jack White’s music was used in what appears to be a sex tourist home video monetized by Google with ads from an asian “dating” site, Prudential Insurance and the band Apocalyptica:

If YouTube negotiations fall apart this time, Google will no doubt try to spin the failure away from its misuse of the DMCA safe harbor to extract the payment of shakedown money to “copyright misuse” of the major labels and publishers responding to the desires of their artists and songwriters.

The truth is there is no amount of money that Google can pay that will make up for the costs of enforcing the DMCA notice and takedown, most of which have to be borne anyway, license or no license.

Given the commitment of the artist and songwriter community to stopping DMCA abuse, particularly by Google due to its dominant market position and the legacy businesses it has built that are dependent on a compliant artist community (not to mention compliant lawmakers who look the other way), I wonder if the labels and publishers think that taking the king’s shilling is worth spending the political capital to offend their artists and songwriters who have gone all in on opposing Google’s legacy business practices.

On the other hand, if Google promotes ContentID and CMS as solutions, shouldn’t Google make these tools available to all creators?  Should Congress require Google to not only make the tools available to everyone, and even expand the application of these tools to search results to counter the massive infringement Google enables through search?

It is not quite too late for Congress to fix this mess.  The safe harbors were intended to give a little latitude to reasonable people acting reasonably.  The DMCA was never intended to be an alibi.

3 thoughts on “What if Legacy YouTube Licenses Went Away? Will Artist and Songwriter Opposition to YouTube Make it Easier for Labels and Publishers to Step Away from Licensing?

  1. Couple points.

    1. Nice calling out the legacy aspect of this. This is the only company/platform in the world that is allowed to operate like this.

    2. ContentID, even if provided to the world, is still a patchwork of data culled from usage that is likely not entirely accurate. How do I know this? Well because I know that every video on YouTube is a derivative work and all derivative works lose their metadata. Given that a recording can have many owners across different regions, there’s no way to absolutely validate or verify the ownership of any recording on YouTube. It’s all guesswork.

    3. There’s the bigger elephant in the room…what about visual artists like photographers and illustrators. Content ID pays music rights owners. But it is absolute shit for everything else. It is not hard to find a video that’s got 100 copyright violations in it from visual artists who can’t use Content ID.

    Which of course is totally okay because the creator of the video cleared the rights with the magic words used by every uploader: ( i do not own any rights )

    And of course YouTube posts an official looking “Licence: Standard YouTube Licence” as if this is an actual licensed and cleared work. Even if you cleared the music, I guarantee the images aren’t.

    4. Content ID doesn’t work across any encrypted system. As we move more and more into encryption and private closed/walled platforms, this hack of reverse infringement discovery isn’t going to work at all. And in fact, as YouTube goes further and further behind the walls of their app…how will rights owners crawl it? They won’t.

    5. The YouTuber in question who critiqued Azoff and others, is Hank Green…the same douchebag who not only created this video claiming he steals music…and of course runs ads on the video, later complained that people were stealing his intellectual property, posting it on Facebook, and making money off it…and does not see the irony.

    “It was a blatant violation of copyright…I just stole it.”

    YouTube is inherently broken because it is based on a broken premise that was never corrected. It needs a complete reboot.


  2. Abraham, you stated that Content ID is not full proof. And you brought up a good point regarding other forms of content. Should not You Tube be responsible for finding a way to block any and all CR content? Why should the burden be on the artists to monitor and block the works? It seems to me that it should be their responsibility to make Content ID and any other blocking software work to prevent infringing uploads. If they are unable to do that, then they should not be in the business they are in. The fact is that unwanted uploads are putting a financial cost on creators. And in any business outside the wild west of Silicon Valley, businesses are held responsible for preventing economic damage to other parties. They are required to take any measures to prevent economic harm, and if they inadvertently cause economic harm they have to pay for losses and sometimes also pay a fine on top of that. I really do not understand why Silicon Valley is allowed to go by different rules.


  3. I’m not saying that YouTube doesn’t share any responsibility in taking something down. And I’m not putting the onus on the rights owner to keep on top of this. What I’m saying is the overarching issue is that the whole technical/methodological solution around how this is handled is broken. So why would you want to export this system to other platforms, developers, and rights owners? My question to you is do you want to take a flawed system and make it the de facto solution across all platforms?

    Should the status quo go on?

    I don’t think YouTube should be in charge of solving a problem that shouldn’t be their problem to begin with. Google and YouTube were made into arbiters of rights…gatekeepers, so further entrenching that into their systems and then expanding it into others is a mistake. I’m saying there needs to be a better solution.

    YouTube needs to help solve the issue, but they should not be the gatekeeper and operator of that solution. It needs to be outside of YouTube and it needs to work for all developers everywhere or this whole thing doesn’t work.


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