Continued heat is being applied to Google, YouTube, and — on a deeper level — to the Safe Harbor provision of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). That 1998 law attempts to protect both user-generated content sites like YouTube, and media rights-holders whose content is uploaded without a license. Music owners can complain to the sites about such uploads, and the sites must respond by taking down infringing content.
YouTube, as the word’s most influential music distributor, sits at the intersection of Safe Harbor and rights-holders who believe the law is outdated, and, according to some, that Google-owned YouTube is abusing it.
Jonathan Taplin is a music and film producer whose credits included working with Bob Dylan and The Band on the music side, and Mean Streets, Last Waltz, and other films. His corporate experience includes serving as VP of Mergers & Acquisitions at Merrill Lynch. As an entrepreneur, Taplin founded Intertainer, a video-on-demand company, and he owns two related technology patents. He is currently a Professor of Communication at USC Annenberg School for Communication, where he specializes in the technology of new media.
In other words, Jonathan Taplin has a voice of experience. On Friday, in a New York Times OpEd piece, he called Google a protection racket. The wording of this insult echoes Grammy-winning producer Maria Schneider, who last week said YouTube was guilty of criminal racketeering.
Taplin’s view has a long historical reach, at least in the internet time frame. His NYTimes opinion piece frames the technology disruption which has rattled the music industry as starting with the original Napster, and continuing with streaming services generally, YouTube particularly, Sirius XM along with them, and AM/FM radio for its exemption from paying artists and labels any royalties.
“New services and platforms are great for consumers, but our weak laws have allowed them to siphon revenue away from the underlying music, leaving songwriters, performers and the whole industry choking on their dust,” Taplin wrote.
As to YouTube’s audio fingerprinting (the proprietary Content ID system which can be used to sniff out infringing uploads), Jonathan Taplin, like Maria Schneider, is pointedly critical. “Google has basic “digital fingerprinting” technology that could scrub both YouTube and its search results of illegal versions. But instead of safeguarding the work of artists, Google wields this tool as a bludgeon. Creators can either enter into a licensing agreement with YouTube at very low royalty rates, or get left at the mercy of pirates. What looks like protection for copyright holders is more of a protection racket benefiting Google.”
With the understanding that nobody likes a critic who doesn’t have a solution, Taplin offers two. First, updating the safe harbor concept with stronger legal protections for rights-holders. The law is nearly 20 years old, and Taplin points out that copying and sharing media is exponentially easier and faster now than in 1998. Second, get AM/FM to pay its share into the music ecosystem — Taplin calls terrestrial radio’s exemption “the original sin.”