Is The Great Artist Revolt Imminent?

1Is an artist revolution imminent? As major labels renegotiate with YouTube, the likelihood of a deal which benefits artists being struck seems unlikely, raising the question of what will happen if said negotiations do indeed fail.


Guest post by Chris Castle of Music Tech Solutions

As I noted in a recent Huffington Post blog, major labels are in the middle of renegotiations with YouTube, Google’s subsidiary and the world’s dominant video search engine.  These deals are relatively short term and are renegotiated every few years.

What’s different this time is that a growing number of artists and songwriters at the grassroots and established levels are asking a simple question:  How can the labels conclude any negotiation with YouTube that doesn’t address the problems with YouTube’s legacy “DMCA license” business?  Would this not trigger an artist revolt if their demands are not met?

You may say you’ve never heard the term “DMCA license”.  It’s a term that has come to describe a bargaining position that plays a desire to push an extreme interpretation by a music user of the “notice and takedown” rules that twists the statute into an unrecognizable shape–so the users have neither a DMCA compliant service nor a license.  The DMCA license is predicated on the user having an essentially unlimited litigation budget that allows the user to strong arm an entire industry.  There is only one company in this category at the moment–Google–but others like Vimeo and Facebook are not far behind.

Will Negotiations Fail?

There are at least three key points to be addressed in any new deal with YouTube: updating YouTube’s legacy revenue share based royalty, marketing restrictions (such as on selling artist names as keywords and the use of recordings in UGC not approved by artists), but most importantly Google’s aggressive DMCA practices in both search and on YouTube.

For the first time, artists are crossing Google’s DMCA position in search with YouTube’s desire to have the cover of licenses on YouTube.

As of this writing, Google is rumored to be holding the line in their renegotiations regardless of what the artists want.  When you consider the issues we covered inYouTube’s Messaging Problem, it’s not surprising that the brittle true believers in Google’s policy shop make compromise on Google’s legacy business an impossibility (like long-time true believer Fred Von Lohmann, chief architect of the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s legal strategy to destroy artists livelihood).

This leads me to believe that when confronted with these choices, the negotiations with YouTube will fail.  This is unfortunate, because what really should be happening is that YouTube should agree to take the DMCA safe harbor off the table if they are getting a license.  It seems not only logically inconsistent to have both a real license and a faux DMCA license, trying to combine the two comes up with an unworkable and frustrating structure.

If YouTube wants the benefits of a license with copyright owners, they should not be surprised that artists expect them to abandon the safe harbor for those licensed recordings, adopt a private arbitration process to resolve disputes, and respect the marketing restrictions that artists reasonably expect.

Where Do We Go if Negotiations Fail?

There’s no reason that official videos could no longer be available on Vevo that is partly owned by YouTube–although expect YouTube to violate their fiduciary duties as a stockholder if major label partners withdraw from YouTube.

The most likely outcome of getting out of the YouTube deals will be a renewed emphasis on alternative video sites like Apple and Spotify.  There’s actually no reason not to start working more closely with those two services right away which will address the artist displeasure with Google.

Plus, as I spun out a bit more on the Huffington Post, YouTube has the great benefit of label marketing budgets spent to drive traffic to YouTube (as well as marketing resources from companies in all other copyright categories).  If those budgets are redeployed to drive traffic away from litigious companies that insult artists with aggressive and unreasonable DMCA positions, the industry will be better prepared for the inevitable “step away” from YouTube.

I think that labels need to be coming to grips with a succession plan as it seems increasingly unlikely that Google will stop acting on the advice of the “policy people” who have never sold a record in their lives.

If the labels fail to satisfy their artists, there will no doubt be an artist revolt.

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1 Comment

  1. Please. No one is going anywhere. There are plenty of artists that will continue to use YouTube, just as there were plenty that used SoundCloud throughout its whole existence prior to the recent licensing deal and streaming platform rollout. That’s the thing, there will never ever be a shortage of hungry artists just dying to be heard at any costs. There works will become the next generations favorite songs and ultimately the “industry” will lose out yet again. YouTube’s views will not go down, they will just be replaced with people watching or listening to something else in place of what has been taken down, leading to further fragmentation of the audio streaming experience, which is fine, every man for himself to figure out the new algorithm is how I love it.
    Also, there’s a well documented track record of what happens when the “music industry” goes against technological change in the wrong way as it relates to trying to control how people consume music and the way the market is saying that it wants it to be distributed. I guess they keep wanting to find out what happens next in the saga. Well, tech has all the time in the world. The industry doesn’t. That’s why everyone at the top is cashing in on as much “up front” cash as they can get before the bough breaks.
    All trends point to a future where the new influx of artists and music content will flow through independent channels leveraged by a widening set of slicker and slicker tools available for DIYs and indies and making their efforts more intelligent and efficient, decreasing the flow of future “mega stars” that can fall into the arms of the majors. Their deals will become smaller and smaller. I believe that the label model and infrastructure as we know it is going to look a lot more like Uber.
    When artists are leveraging the right combination of tools and platforms to manage their own contracts via tools like Cosynd.com, generate their own visual/video content from their audio catalogs for all platforms at the push of a button via automated tools like ArtTracks.com, track their own royalties owed via aggregated dashboards and intelligent analytics, and leverage their own social network followings by driving them through customer pipelines and value chains that are natively integrated into these networks, perhaps only then will the “music industry” throw in the towel on this same, predictable, historically-proven-to-fail strategy.
    Always so far behind. Always on the wrong side of innovation. Software is eating the world and the writing’s been on the wall. A.I. is the next wave and it’s going to wreak fkn havoc in ways that the industry can’t even imagine. If they think things are bad now, holy shit.

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