YouTube goes on record concerning changes to music video services

In Music by Joel Freimark / June 25, 2014

Over the past few weeks, a massive amount of controversy has enveloped YouTube and their plans to alter how music is handled and presented though the platform. 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. After publishing a pair of stories on the issue, 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.

The reality is, music has become “wildly popular on YouTube” as our source says, and in its current state, the service sees and handles these videos the same way it does videos of cooking, comedy, etc. Yet according to their spokesperson, “it’s not really the same type of media,” as you interact with music in different ways, whether that be repeated watching, wanting to take that music somewhere offline, or a host of other scenarios. It is due to these differences that YouTube has been developing new layers of service that users will be able to opt into in the near future.

YouTube’s spokesmen made it clear that for years, the service has prided itself on, “being a place for any musician of any level to find a massive audience,” and that this is something they want to encourage more of, as opposed to hindering. With this reality in mind, the company has been developing new systems to deliver a better experience for users, which includes being able to listen to songs offline, dig deeper into an artist’s catalog, as well as other features to generate more revenue for both the artist and company.

Yet before any changes can be made in terms of how YouTube presents and handles music videos, they had to secure new and different usage rights with the performers and labels who hold those copyrights. This change in rights is similar to when YouTube did so to take advantage of the mobile market a number of years ago, as those rights are different from just being able to stream videos on a desktop computer. This process of working new terms has been in progress for well over a year according to our source, a it is this process that led to the comment that “all but 5% of all labels” are on board with the changes, as well as the open frustrations from independent label trade groups.

Clearly understanding the reality of the situation, 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.”

This is perhaps the most controversial and questionable element of the entire scenario, as many small labels are exceptionally concerned with getting a fair deal, as well as the claim that those who do not agree to YouTube’s new terms will find their content blocked. Our YouTube spokesperson was quick to point out that regardless of the new negotiations, this is not a prelude to any sort of blacklisting, and the claims of blocking were likely taken out of context from laws and rules that have been in effect for years.

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. Being the rights holder, he can demand this of YouTube. This exact same style of policy will still be in place with the new services being deployed, and whether or not content is blocked is very much specific to legal agreements between artists, labels and YouTube.

The spokesperson from YouTube went further, saying that they feel the small label trade groups are “trying to create the perception that [the new contracts] impact all indies, which is not correct.” In reality, it only impacts that small set of labels who YouTube has yet to reach a new deal with; or in other terms, the impacted labels are only that 5% of labels YouTube already has a relationship with, who are holding off from the new terms.

To help alleviate any confusion or concerns, their spokesperson told us, “If you are in that small subset of folks we are actively negotiating with about moving from the prior contract to the new one, if you’re in that 5%, you’d know you’re in that 5%.” To a massive number of small bands and labels this will come as a relief, as YouTube has reached agreements with all but 5% of the labels they work with currently. Again, not %5 all labels in existence, but 5% of labels already under contract with YouTube.

That is perhaps the most important distinction, as YouTube admittedly does not have business arrangements or relationships with “every” record label on the planet, and for artists on these labels, as well a unsigned artists, the new changes will have “no impact whatsoever.” As they have in the past, YouTube needs express permission to show ads on an artist’s videos, and to clear up another rumor of the service placing ads on videos without compensating the artist, YouTube added that they will, “by no means be profiting from a video where we don’t have a copyright agreement in place.”

When specifically asked what would be different for an artist who does not have a business relationship with YouTube when they go to upload a new song, their spokesmen simply said, “Nothing different happens. You keep uploading your videos exactly as before.”

To dispel another rumor, while many people have been saying the rollout of these changes was imminent, YouTube’s spokesperson said that there is no set time frame at the moment, but it is likely to be a matter of months before users can begin to take advantage of the new services they are offering. Again, YouTube was quick to point out that they are not taking away services per se; they are offering additional resources that users can opt into if they so desire.

The fact of the matter is, with so much potential revenue on the line, it is more than understandable that both YouTube and the labels want to get the best deal possible. To this end, YouTube’s spokesperson admitted he felt it was, “very unfortunate how things have unfolded.” Yet he wanted to make it clear that, “above all else, YouTube respects the privacy of those who bring content to the platform,” and that their intent is for these new systems to deliver a better and more enjoyable experience for their users, and more profitable and useful models for the artists taking advantage of the service.

Joel Freimark hosts a daily music-related webseries HERE and you can follow his daily music musings and suggestions HERE as well.

Image: MT Data

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