YouTube ready to block indies, new music service readying for late-summer launch

youtube squareYouTube‘s contentious negotiations with some independent labels is about to reach a culminating point, as Google will soon begin removing videos of music owned by labels which have not signed a new licensing agreement. Organizations representing small labels have complained of abusive negotiating tactics on Google’s part, and have petitioned European governments to intervene.

As quoted in a Financial Times article (subscription firewall), YouTube head of content Robert Kyncl appears implacable about the controversial negotiations: “While we wish that we had 100 percent success rate, we understand that it is not likely an achievable goal and therefore it is our responsibility to our users and the industry to launch the enhanced user experience.”

One of the disagreement points in YouTube-label negotiations has been the threat to remove content if the new contract is not signed. An open question of those reports has been whether the purported content-blocking would apply to the new service only, or the entire YouTube platform. Today’s news indicates that the existing YouTube site and the new service will be tied together by one licensing agreement. Content-blocking will reportedly begin within days — superstar indie artists including Adele and Arctic Monkeys will supposedly disappear from YouTube.

That might not be entirely true, though. The label-content ban would presumably apply only to master recordings. A quick search for Adele on YouTube shows those results mixed with concert videos and covers of Adele songs. Presumably that secondary content would remain, as the label contracts apply to the recording, not the performer or the songwriter.

There’s a compliance question, too. YouTube is a crowdsourced platform; videos are uploaded by users in huge volume. Maintaining a content block of many thousands of banned tracks and albums would seemingly require an immense policing effort.

Still, it’s a difficult choice for unsigned labels. YouTube is the most important music delivery platform on the Internet, by far, and Google has extraordinary leverage in its negotiations.

Details about the long-rumored YouTube music service are starting to seep out. The subscription cost of the paid service will eliminate advertising, and enable offline listening. The service will go public later this summer.

Brad Hill