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180 artists including Taylor Swift, McCartney & U2 take on YouTube
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180 artists including Taylor Swift, McCartney & U2 take on YouTube

by Stephen Charlton2016/06/21

Most of us enjoy streaming a song or three on YouTube and generally you can find whatever you want to hear. It seems the heat is mounting on the streaming giant though, and the days of such free streaming may be coming to an end. 180 performers and songwriters penned an open letter to Congress which that calls for reform of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which regulates online copyright. Big names including Sir Paul McCartney, Taylor Swift, U2, Pearl Jam and Jack White have put their name to the letter. Major labels Universal Music, Sony Music and Warner Music signed alongside a total of 19 companies. Meghan Trainor, Cher and Barry Manilow also signed, so you know they mean business.

YouTube streaming content protected under DCMA

Youtube free streaming sir paul McCartney

Better rates for streamed content gets a thumbs up from Sir Paul McCartney.

YouTube currently enjoys “safe harbor” under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) from copyright infringement liability based on the actions of their userbase, provided the company responds to rights holders’ takedown notices. The letter to Congress states:

“Music consumption has skyrocketed, but the monies earned by individual writers and artists for that consumption has plummeted… The DMCA simply doesn’t work. It’s impossible for tens of thousands of individual songwriters and artists to muster the resources necessary to comply with its application. The tech companies who benefit from the DMCA today were not the intended protectorate when it was signed into law nearly two decades ago. We ask you to enact sensible reform that balances the interests of creators with the interests of the companies who exploit music for their financial enrichment.”

The letter concludes “It’s only then that consumers will truly benefit.” So apparently they’re doing this out of the goodness of their heart for us, the consumers. As a consumer I find it works just fine being able to access whatever songs I want on YouTube, but I can see why the labels aren’t big fans of the arrangement. The DCMA certainly makes it difficult for rights holders to control where and how their content is available online, and at what price.

Major labels in midst of negotiations with YouTube

The debate over YouTube’s content has raged on for months, but the entrance of big name artists is a turning point here. The background of the issue is that the major labels are currently negotiating new deals with YouTube. Universal’s deal has expired already, although they continue to do business with YouTube. The U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee is currently reviewing copyright law, while the U.S. Copyright Office conducts a study into the DCMA in particular. The labels believe that YouTube’s free content makes it difficult for other subscription services like Apple Music and Spotify to compete.

Will artists really benefit from DCMA changes?

YouTube free streaming Trent Reznor

Trent Reznor is one of the big artists that entered the debate on YouTube.

The letter to Congress puts the issue in terms of artist’s rights:

“we are writing to express our concern about the ability of the next generation of creators to earn a living.”

Artists gain $0.0003 per stream on YouTube, according to estimates, which is certainly difficult to make a living off. But even if the labels get their way, are artists really any better off with Spotify or Apple Music? The same estimates suggest Spotify streams result in $0.0011 going to signed artists per song, while Apple Music results in $0.0012. Unsigned artists get larger cuts as there’s no label to take a piece of the pie. Certainly the labels stand to benefit if changes to the DCMA allow them to have a better standpoint for negotiations with YouTube.

Respected artists such as Trent Reznor have spoken out against YouTube’s model as well, and he’s no label puppet. Perhaps artists will be better off if the DCMA is altered, although how much remains to be seen. If the labels get their way, perhaps unrestricted free streaming music on major sites will be a thing of the past. With file-sharing, it’s not like consumers will have to go far to get their free content though.

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About The Author
Stephen Charlton
Stephen Charlton is a musician, journalist and editor.

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