The industry’s battle against YouTube gathers steam

youtube square canvasWith the recent wave of music industry organizations worldwide releasing their data for 2015, two distinct trends have emerged. First is an acknowledgement and acceptance that streaming is becoming a major (if not THE major) source of revenue for the industry. Second, though, is a growing dissatisfaction with the flow of money through ad-supported streaming services. Some reports just imply frustration, while others have centered on YouTube as the symbolic scapegoat for their anger about the amount of revenue generated by that type of media platform.

Things have gotten more heated in recent weeks. Here’s a quick round-up of the big developments:

  • The IFPI devoted several pages in its global report to a discussion of the “value gap” created by online services that attract millions, or even billions, of listeners but funnel a comparatively small amount of revenue to the performers, songwriters, and music business infrastructure.
  • The RIAA’s 2015 report also had some telling graphs that seemed to point fingers at ad-supported services for not pulling their weight.
  • Several U.S. groups even went so far as to petition the U.S. Copyright Office to demand changes to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Artists and music managers were represented in those petitions.
  • YouTube finally weighed in. Google filed its own missive to the Copyright Office on April 7, arguing that its Content ID program should be sufficient protection against the industry concerns. “Although business partners can be expected to disagree from time to time about the price of a license, any claim that the DMCA safe harbors are responsible for a “value gap” for music on YouTube is simply false,” the briefing reads.

In this wave of debates, the DMCA is the big stumbling block. According to the laels, it protects YouTube and similar platforms from liability when its users upload infringing material.

“We feel like the 1998 Internet is not the Internet of 2016,” RIAA head Cary Sherman told Re/code. “It’s a dramatically different Internet, and it’s time to take a fresh look at whether the balance that was struck in 1998 is effective in 2016.”

The legal world moves notoriously slower than both the technology and business worlds, and the 1998 law does pose some questions for the new industry niches that have emerged. Currently, though, there seems to be a renewed sense of both frustration and readiness for action coming from the industry side. With the time approaching for YouTube to renegotiate its deals with the major labels, some number of those parties may be finding themselves in court. The majors could simply refuse to play ball, YouTube could launch some alternative rights management system, who knows. But there appears to be enough momentum that the government could wind up involved at some point.

Anna Washenko