YouTube faces superstar backlash over DMCA – but is it the best strategy?


MBW review-1Each week, The MBW Review gives our take on some of the biggest news stories of the previous seven days. This time, we break some major news about artists backing an industry anti-DMCA campaign – as well as exploring other tactics to tackle Google’s treatment of the music biz. The MBW Review is supported by FUGA.

UPDATE: Subsequent to MBW publishing the below, Billboard has revealed that the likes of Taylor Swift, Vince Gill, Carole King and the Kings Of Leon have also co-signed the new petition, which carries the signatures of over 180 songwriters and artists, and is due to appear in influential Washington DC magazines this week.

If YouTube thought protests by artists over its payments to musicians had passed, it was mistaken.

Rock solid MBW sources working in the US media have told us that a raft of superstars have signed a draft petition – soon to enter the public domain – against key elements of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

Their names include Lady Gaga, Sir Paul McCartney, Ryan Adams, Cher, Sir Elton John, Jack White, Fall Out Boy, Yoko Ono Lennon, Bette Midler, Queens Of the Stone Age, Pink, Maroon 5, Mark Ronson, Pusha-T, Sade, Gwen Stefani, Sting, Beck, Ne-Yo and Trent Reznor.

The new letter, we’re told, is directly addressed to the US Congress and asks lawmakers to “please protect” future artists and songwriters by enacting “sensible reform” of the DMCA – ie. a closing of the safe harbor loopholes which prevent YouTube from being held liable for copyright infringement taking place on its platform.

It adds that the current version of the YouTube-shielding law “is broken”, “simply doesn’t work” and has allowed tech companies to generate “huge profits” while the earnings of artists and songwriters “has plummeted”

Other artist under-signers include those who previously inked an anti-DMCA letter to the US Copyright Office, such as Elvis Costello, Jon Bon Jovi, Rod Stewart, Lionel Richie, Steven Tyler, Christina Aguilera and John Mayer.

Now, the big guns have well and truly been brought out.

But is this the really the best strategy to ensure Google fixes its treatment of the musicians?

Nikki Sixx A.MYou may have noticed that there’s been a one man – or rather, one band – crusade against YouTube going down this week.

Sixx:A.M, including founding member Nikki Sixx, wrote such an on-the-nose open letter to Google’s Larry Page on Monday that YouTube responded almost immediately.

The band claimed that a meeting was recently held between independent music biz reps and YouTube content boss Robert Kyncl – at which Kyncl apparently “asked [artists] to help pause [their YouTube] protest in return for action”.

“No action has been taken, meetings have been postponed, emails remain unanswered,” boomed Sixx:A.M, before announcing they would be kicking up their own revolt once again – while directly beseeching Google boss Larry Page to intervene.

“We are now appealing to you Mr. Page, as a saxophone player who ironically credits his love of music as the inspiration behind the success of the world’s most valuable company, to step up,” Sixx:A.M continued.

“The voices of the artists are being heard.”

YouTube statement

“As the man who coined the slogans, ‘Don’t Be Evil’ and ‘Do The Right Thing,’ we want you take your own advice before irreparable damage is done to the future of artists around the world.”

YouTube quickly fired back a statement via MBW.  Some predictable hallmarks of the company’s arguments were included – such as the fact it feels comparing YouTube’s per-stream payouts to Spotify’s is “apple and oranges”.

But there was also something new; something telling.

The voices of the artists are being heard, and we’re working through details with the labels and independent music organisations who directly manage the deals with us,” said YouTube.

If it’s presumptive to suggest that YouTube was rattled by Sixx:A.M’s letter, it’s at least safe to say it was spurred into action.

Turns out Google doesn’t enjoy being made to look like it’s slapping artists in the face. Who does.

Google signInterestingly, Sixx:A.M’s letter didn’t once mention Congress.

Unlike Sir Paul and Lady Gaga’s new petition, it was not addressed to legislators, but to Google itself.

Rather than calling for complex DMCA amendments, Sixx:A.M wanted simple decency.

This was a direct, public appeal to Google – to both its brand and its boss – not to quash the aspirations of young musicians.

“What if this letter had come from taylor swift?”

Sixx:AM are a heavy rock band with a diehard fanbase. Nikki Sixx also has an audience of millions via his syndicated rock radio shows on iHeart.

However, they are by no means mainstream pop darlings.

Makes you think.

What if this letter had come from Taylor Swift?

Taylor SwiftWhen Swift penned her own fateful open missive to Apple last summer, she toppled a behemoth.

In reality, a weight of secret industry negotiations – led by Merlin, Beggars Group and more – set the conditions for her hammer blow.

Yet it was Taylor Swift who finally forced Apple into action.

Studying the ammunition with which she did so is important. Especially now – as the music biz sets out its stall against another tech giant’s apparent dastardliness.

Swift’s letter was dynamite because of two vital factors: her legions of young fans around the globe, and her eloquence in questioning Apple’s brand values in public.

“We don’t ask you for free iPhones. Please don’t ask us to provide you with our music for no compensation,” went her memorable kiss-off.

Apple was left dazed on the canvas.

Swift was very careful not to be combative, but rather to paint her disbelief at the uncharacteristic – and redeemable – greed by a company she previously considered an unimpeachable partner.

She cleverly castigated Apple Music’s refusal to pay free trial royalties as “shocking, disappointing, and completely unlike this historically progressive and generous company”.

Swift was deploying a tool far more powerful than anger, bombast or, yes, legislative lobbying.

She was using shame.

Apple-Logo-rainbowWall Street might be awash with piggishness, but it sure hates shame.

Apple, the richest company on the planet (depending on the day) has been built upon an obelisk of corporate perfection over 40 years; the plinth for its almighty $534bn market cap value today.

Apple’s stuff just works, goes the edict, and it always treat its customers fantastically. No penny-pinching, no discounts – a premium experience for people willing to pay a premium.

Swift’s letter threatened to put a sizeable crack in this crucial reputation.

“Taylor swift’s letter threatened to put a sizable crack in Apple’s reputation.”

Investors own Apple, and the last thing they want to see is their market cap worn down by the polite yet globally amplified gripes of a nation’s musical sweetheart.

Apple relented in record time.

Taylor Swift is now the honeybunch of three Apple Music advertising campaigns.

Nothing to see here.

Whether Swift’s complaint could have tangibly damaged Apple’s bottom line actually seems less likely to me than if she’d fired off a similar anti-love letter to Google.

Like most publicly traded US businesses, Alphabet (Google’s parent, so kind of YouTube’s grandparent) reveals its scary corporate ‘risk factors’ in financial updates with the SEC.

One of these risk factors centres around “increased regulatory scrutiny that may negatively impact our business”.

The music industry’s current DMCA/safe harbour fight hits the bullseye of this threat – and it’s certainly a worthwhile mission to pursue.

But there are other risk factors at Google, too. And two of them really stand out:

  • “Many of our advertisers… digital publishers, and content partners can terminate their contracts with us at any time.”
  • “Our business depends on a strong brand… failing to maintain and enhance [it] would hurt our ability to expand our base of users, advertisers and other partners.”

Screen Shot 2016-06-17 at 09.13.50It strikes me that music is perhaps the one business most ideally suited to tearing into these vulnerabilities.

Artists, especially those at the top of the commercial food chain, collectively improve the lives of billions of people every day.

Using the likes of Paul McCartney to enact legislative change in the US is an understandable tactic: I’m sure even the hardest-hearted Congress rep goes a little gooey when a Beatle asks a favour.

Yet with all that influence and adoration at their fingertips, perhaps the smartest way for artists to manifest their ire over YouTube lies elsewhere.

Taylor Swift gently used her status to personally embarrass Apple as the world watched on.

Apple’s investors know who Taylor Swift is, they know the value of Apple’s pristine brand – and they know a toxic relationship between the two is bad for business.

Google’s beaming brand lies at the heart of its own gigantic success – and its own $488bn market cap.

This week, it promised us that the “voices of artists are being heard”.

If the world’s biggest musicians think YouTube should be ashamed of itself, perhaps it’s time they said so.

Screen Shot 2016-04-04 at 13.35.51The MBW Review is supported by FUGA, the high-end technology partner for content owners and distributors. FUGA is the number one choice for some of the largest labels, management companies and distributors worldwide. With a broad array of services, its adaptable and flexible platform has been built, in conjunction with leading music partners, to provide seamless integration and meet rapidly evolving industry requirements. Learn more at www.fuga.comMusic Business Worldwide

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  • willbuckley

    As an evolved society we cannot continue to allow great art to be the sacrificial lamb for empire building on the internet.

    Section 512 is where the battle line is being drawn between online businesses that use a loophole in the law to reap enormous profits from using copyrighted material without permission and the copyright holders who have seen their careers crater and their earnings evaporate. It is nothing less than a life and death struggle for the future of art in America. A battle whose outcome is yet undecided.

    • Neil Down

      It is NOT a life and death struggle for the future for Art in America, drama queen. The safe harbor provisions the DMCA provides is completely reasonable unless you happen to be extremely greedy or think your content is worth more than what the actual market is willing to pay. Like it or not, piracy is a direct result of greed Too greedy…then more piracy. Less greedy, more paying customers. What the artist thinks is mostly irrelevant. Streaming music and video services are the trend now but of course working with them is the solution even if it takes a few tries. If the music industry wants to go after YouTube so badly, they can just pull their content as they like and go with paid services. Copyright is a PART of a bigger puzzle, but is not the entire puzzle and should not and never has gotten absolute say on how their content is to be consumed. If it is worthy and not too expensive, people will pay for it. The music industry has been crying for decades about piracy and they have continued to make lots and lots of money. Just ask Andre (Dr. Dre) Young about how he had kids to feed during the Napster days. Well, he’s still fithy rich as an Apple executive despite his sob story from years ago. Taylor Swift can go cry a river and she isn’t as important as she thinks she is and Apple is far more likely to go along with her because their business model is pay a lot to hopefully get a lot whereas YouTube’s business model is a shared cost system. I personally hate the DMCA myself because of the silly anti-hacking parts about it, since hardware and software hacking goes on anyway and trying to punish reverse engineering is effectively a way to reduce technical innovation.

  • ilexx

    I honestly think there is alot that they can tackle that could really force YouTube to address all these issues. I think a signed petition from some of the most powerful artists in the world, addressed to congress is a good thing.

    Then to take it a step further, every artist who signs the petition, should write their own letter addressing Google and YouTube directly and share this letter across their social media platforms for all their followers and fanbase to see. Can you imagine the shame Google and YouTube would experience if a campaign of this magnitude was launched?

    Almost everybody in the world would become aware of Google’s debauchery because an outcry of that magnitude on social media with all these artists followings would be sure to get coverage from traditional media and blogs alike.

    I think Google would have no choice but to fold. This strategy applies Taylor’s strategy with Apple, on a much larger scale by adding the power of various other artists and it adds the seriousness of legislative appeal. It shows that artists are serious and not willing to continue to allow tech companies to trample all over their lively hood while continually lining their pockets.

  • Jeffrey Faust

    It is like that episode of South Park, where all the music artists get mad that some kids are downloading their music to free, forcing them to live a life of semi-luxury. Look, each of these celebrities makes millions every year, and they are saying that that is not good enough. That is greed at its worst. I can barely afford to buy Top Ramen from the Supermarket, but I complain when other people get it for free from food stamps? No. I am getting off topic though. So basically these stars are mad because their music is available for free on youtube, and not on Apple’s nazi music store, that forces you to pay a dollar everytime you want to listen to more than thirty seconds of a song. What these celebrities don’t understand are three things. First, some people would like to listen to music when they get back home from work, but since minimum wage jobs don’t pay that much, they can’t afford to buy every song they want to listen to, so they go on Youtube so they can listen to music without having to spend extra money. Second, a lot of people still buy their songs, and anyone who is a fan of the artist is going to want to buy the album, despite the fact that it is available on Youtube for free. Thirdly, for some reason I don’t quite comprehend, Youtube still makes a lot of money despite being free to watch, (perhaps it is from companies that display ads on their website). When a user gets a lot of views, Youtube realizes that this brings more people to the site, so as their way of saying thanks, they give the music artist a certain portion of money based on how many views they have. At least that is along the lines of what a representative from Youtube said on the news last week.

  • Fuzzballfox Onionring

    “We’re all upset that the DMCA is too weak.”
    No mention about how abused the DMCA is, how companies regularly violate it entirely, how it has absolutely no regulations on punishing false claims, or how the model the record industry proposes is literally just SOPA-style “we’ll fix this problem by breaking something completely unrelated and pretend we’re morally justified.”

  • spaceman

    Hey people make your own music and forget these clowns. They want you to think they are the only ones that can make music, big mistake.