YouTube is giving six-figure promotional budgets to certain musicians if they agree not to disparage the platform, according to a report in Bloomberg, which cites people familiar with the matter. The report says YouTube has “given a handful of musicians a couple hundred thousand dollars to produce videos and promoted their work on billboards” if they agree to sign non-disparagement agreements. A rep for YouTube did not immediately respond to Variety’s request for comment.
The effort is described as part of a larger campaign to improve the platform’s image in the music community, which has long railed against its comparatively low, safe-harbor-protected royalty rates. The article cites recent YouTube campaigns by G-Eazy, reggaeton artist Ozuna and Katy Perry, who in 2017 performed at a company event and hosted a days-long livestream on the service. It also claims YouTube requires many of its content partners to sign similar agreements, the requirements of which go beyond standard non-disparagement pacts in ways that were not detailed.
YouTube has long been a target for the music industry and musicians due to what it considers the platform’s low royalty payments despite the vast amount of music hosted on the site. In a report earlier this year, the global trade organization International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) singled out YouTube as the single greatest threat to the renewed growth of the music industry, saying, “The value gap, [which is] the growing mismatch between the value that user upload services, such as YouTube, extract from music, and the revenue returned to those who are creating and investing in music.”
In August YouTube’s head of music, Lyor Cohen, published a cheerful blog post about the company’s work with the music industry that was met by waves of criticism, not least from the Recording Industry Association of America’s Cary Sherman, who responded with a fiery post of his own in which he asked, “Why is YouTube paying so little?”
Musicians have long criticized the company for its payments, most prominently in 2016 open letter signed by 180 performers and songwriters including Taylor Swift, Paul McCartney, Vince Gill, Carole King and Vince Staples along with 19 organizations and companies including the three major labels. The letter called for reform of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which regulates copyright online and allows platforms including YouTube protection from legal liability for copyright infringement.
Regardless, all three major labels signed new agreements with the service in 2017.