Music Industry

So Why Are Artists So Pissed Off with YouTube? Here’s an Explanation.

YouTube pays out billions in royalties to artists every year, but there’s plenty of discontent out there. What’s the story? Rolling Stone takes a look.

Last year, Deadmau5 sent his lawyer, Dina LaPolt, a Skype message: “Please shut this down.” He’d found a YouTube channel with 400 unauthorized videos containing his songs: album tracks, remixes and full live shows. “We had to have a paralegal sit in my office for six hours and send 400 takedowns,” says LaPolt. “After that, the channel shut down – and it popped up again two days later. It’s a big issue for him.”

YouTube, with more than 1 billion users, is the most popular source for music streaming on the Internet. But it’s become a source of frustration for artists including Taylor Swift, Paul McCartney, Beck, Kings of Leon and others, who recently signed an open letter to Congress calling for reform on the law that allows YouTube to host millions of unauthorized videos. “The artist has no choice – their music is on YouTube even if they don’t want it there,” says Irving Azoff, manager of acts such as the Eagles and Van Halen. Azoff has published a separate letter to YouTube, calling for action on two issues: its relatively small royalty payments to artists, and its inability to efficiently remove content from the site.

The music business has less bargaining power than ever: As album sales have fallen about 60 percent in the past decade, YouTube has become increasingly important – 98 percent of American Internet users ages 18 to 24 visit the site – and the company says its ad sales have delivered $3 billion to artists and content creators. “YouTube has become radio for kids,” says Ken Levitan, who manages Kings of Leon, Cheap Trick and others.

But unlike radio, Azoff says, YouTube is a bad business partner.

This is important stuff. Keep reading.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 38524 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

One thought on “So Why Are Artists So Pissed Off with YouTube? Here’s an Explanation.

  • As a lawyer, I wonder if this might be a case of “be careful what you ask for”. If YouTube has to accept take responsibility for removing any “unauthorized” music on it’s site (or face liability for leaving it up), then that really only leaves YouTube one solution: don’t allow music on the site, period.

    Are you a label that wants to put your bands’ music videos on YouTube? Too bad, YouTube doesn’t know what your contracts say, they have no idea if you’re really authorized to do that, so they’re going to have to take it down. Are you a brand that paid thousands of dollars to the hip new indie band to include their music in your commercial? YouTube has never seen that license agreement. YouTube doesn’t know that the use of their music in your commercial is authorized, so they’re going to have to take it down. Which means you are much less likely to want to pay hip new indie bands any amount of money in the future to use their music, because you can’t even put the resulting commercial on YouTube. Oh, you’re willing to give a copy of your license agreement to YouTube to prove the use is authorized? YouTube has no idea if you’ve kept up with your fee payments, so to air on the side of caution, they’re going to have to take it down.

    The analogy to porn is completely flawed. Making the decsion “is this porn?” raises completely different challenges than deciding “is this an authorized use of music?”. The first can be answered (at least subjectively) simply by viewing the video. The second can’t be answered without access to a lot of confidential business information.

    So while I sympathize with musicians here, I worry that if they actually achieve their goals, there are going to be a lot of unintended side effects.


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