Music Business

Former UMG Exec: Major Label Music Should Cost More, Destroy DMCA Safe Harbors

1In a recent bout of industry hypocrisy Paul Young, a former director of licensing for Universal Music Group has taken to the soap box denouncing the DMCA and the unfairness of streaming services, although his argument seems plagued with a lack of understanding regarding copyright and economics in general.

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By Tim Cushing of Techdirt

If you're going to argue against YouTube, Spotify, etc. and the supposed wholesale screwing of artists, it helps if:

A. You're not a former member of an entity with decades of experience in screwing artists, and

B. You have some grasp of basic economic concepts.

1 (1)Paul Young, a former director of licensing for Universal Music Group, has an op-ed posted at The Hill decrying the unfairness of streaming services and the wrongness of the DMCA. But any point he's trying to make is buried under ignorance and the demand that some artists be treated more equally than others.

The music community’s grievances are the following: (1) The DMCA allows internet service providers to build ad-based businesses built upon infringing content that the artists cannot effectively police through “notice and take down” procedures; (2) If and when service providers pay the artists, it’s on the providers’ hopelessly complex terms, resulting in payments that offer fractions of pennies per view; (3) Service providers offer “free” teaser music to the public when copyright owners should have the absolute right to control distribution of their music.

(1) The DMCA sucks, but it sucks the way studios and labels wanted it to. Now they don't like it and they want to change it to suck in a different way. They're also arguing for "notice and STAY down," which works out great for labels/studios… unless they're inadvertently targeting their OWN site with unvetted DMCA notices.

(2) "Hopelessly complex terms" are included in almost every royalty agreement. Service providers don't have a monopoly on this behavior.

1(3) If copyright owners want "absolute control," they're free to pull their music, movies, etc. from services they don't like. Not many have, because not many are willing to give up this revenue stream they constantly claim isn't paying enough. As for the artists themselves, they have no "absolute control" — not if they're signed to a label. Young may be writing about screwed artists, but he's really only interested in protecting the "rights" of gatekeepers.

He confirms this by claiming major labels deserve to be treated better than other copyright owners.

Free music streaming is fair only for original, home-based music. However, what the public streams mostly comprises of premium, professional content. This content is expensive to create, risky to market and requires many behind-the- scene professionals.

It's OK for service providers to screw the little guy. But don't mess with the majors. They have oh-so-many mouths to feed — mouths that are more deserving of revenue than creators that don't cut them in on the deal. Young wants a better deal for artists, but with a caste system attached.

Here's more:

Every minute, 400 hours of footage is uploaded to YouTube, much of it synched to copyrighted music. [Note: citation needed.] This gives YouTube a distinct advantage over Spotify, Tidal, Apple Music and other services that do not offer user-generated streaming of works they do not control.

Much of this YouTube footage is monetized with paid ads. YouTube retains a minimum of 45 percent of this revenue, at prices it sets (but does not reveal),irrespective of the content’s creation costs.

Major label music should "pay" more — whether it's a premium in subscription fees or a larger cut of advertising revenue payouts. Why? Because it costs more to make. But production costs havelittle to do with pricing — and that includes advertising revenue.

If we lived in Young's world, tickets to "Paranormal Activity" (production budget: $450,000) would be $5 and tickets to "Avatar" (production budget $425,000,000) would be $4,700. [Productions costs taken from here.] Buying My Bloody Valentine's "Loveless" would bankrupt music fans just as certainly as it nearly financially destroyed the label that released it, while Owl City's basement-produced hit album could presumably be had for a handful of pocket change.

Young — and the label he worked for — appear to believe the internet owes them a living. But just them. Not the rest of these shabby artists the labels are unwilling to gatekeep for.

Once Young has finished deliberately misunderstanding how markets work, he moves on to the point of his op-ed, which begins with him recycling the stupid "built on the backs of artists" trope that presumes no service provider could ever become successful without engaging in copyright infringement. Then he goes right off the rails.

I would argue for stronger, industry-wide measures: a complete repeal of the safe harbor provisions of the DMCA and a prohibition on any unauthorized uploading of the property of others.

The first part is insane. Young actually wants service providers to be fully responsible for the actions of their users. Like the ongoing attacks on Section 230 of the CDA, this is a very lazy, very dangerous attempt to paint targets on the backs of those who have money, rather than perform the more difficult work of targeting the users who actually commit copyright infringement, make defamatory statements, etc.

This line of thinking says labels and studios need do nothing more than bitch loudly and expect everyone else to solve their problems — whether it's websites, legislators, or internet service providers. This is how they "protect" their artists. By complaining stupidly and demanding the internet be torn apart and rebuilt to their specifications, damn the collateral damage.

The second part is just moronic. Every site prohibits unauthorized uploadings. Active efforts are made to police uploaded content and any site that wants to stay alive for long sets up a DMCA agent to respond to takedown notices. But it's never enough. Young apparently feels current prohibitions just aren't prohibitive enough, as though there were a magical tech solution somewhere that might prevent any unauthorized uploading from taking place ever again, if only service providers weren't so busy raking in billions on the backs of major label artists.

The whole op-ed is an embarrassment. But, unfortunately, it's par for the course in major label/studio arguments. It's worse than the blind leading the naked. It's the ignorant leading the angry. It's short-sighted rent-seeking by people who somehow think they can force more revenue out of service providers by destroying the protections that have allowed them to prosper.

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