×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

5 Real Ways YouTube Can Fix Its Problems With the Music Industry (Guest Column)

On August 17, YouTube Global Head of Music Lyor Cohen posted an article on the company’s blog in which he wrote about “the current state of YouTube’s relationship with the [music] industry.” The platform has received no shortage of criticism for paying what many feel are insufficient royalties to creators, labels and publishers, and several people in the industry criticized Cohen’s blog post. David Israelite, president and CEO of the National Music Publishers’ Association, joins the fray below.

Lyor Cohen recently wrote a piece defending YouTube and what it has done to benefit songwriters and artists, which included “five factors that explain the current situation.” The industry has responded forcefully — rightly so — and pointed out the many deficiencies in Mr. Cohen’s arguments and in YouTube’s actions. In an effort to help Mr. Cohen and his friends at YouTube and its parent company Google, we suggest five ways YouTube can actually be successful in working with the music creators it claims to help promote. If YouTube is serious about treating and paying creators fairly, these are actual steps they can take beyond a blog post.

First, YouTube must commit to “take down, stay down” — or keeping infringing videos down after a proper DMCA takedown notice. We know this can be done. In fact, YouTube should be commended for quickly, effectively and permanently blocking hate and pornographic videos. It is clear to songwriters and artists that keeping videos that contain infringing material down isn’t something they can’t do, it’s something they won’t do. It is time for YouTube to step out from behind the protections of the DMCA and work with the music industry to ensure that where copyright owners identify infringing content, that material is taken down permanently.  Show songwriters and artists that their rights — and the time taken to protect those rights — are a priority to YouTube.

Second, YouTube must provide greater transparency into and scrutiny of their “partners,” including multi-channel networks (MCNs) that operate unchecked on the YouTube platform. YouTube is aware that many of these partners do not have licenses to use the massive amounts of music contained within their videos, but it has chosen to remain willfully blind. And it continues to collect substantial revenue from these MCNs while artists and songwriters are paid nothing for the use of their music. Again, YouTube must demonstrate that it values songwriters and artist as business partners equal to the MCNs. Making public the list of MCNs and partners operating on the YouTube platform, and working with copyright owners to address those partners who use music unlicensed, is an important and doable first step.

Third, Lyor puts a large emphasis on transparency in the industry. Sadly, however, YouTube is anything but transparent when it comes to royalty payments it has made to songwriters and artists. Mr. Cohen himself provides an incredibly vague explanation as to why YouTube’s royalties seem too low, blaming it on international payments. Specifically — or, rather, unspecifically — he says, “YouTube is global and the numbers get diluted by lower contributions in developing markets.” Why not simply make public YouTube’s royalty payments in each country? This would go a long way toward the industry transparency he claims is so important. Instead, he implores us to trust that they are “working the ads hustle like crazy.” Mr. Cohen’s comments provide little consolation to the working songwriters who are hustling every day, and who need more than ambiguous promises.

Speaking of payments, our fourth suggestion is that YouTube look to its competitors and pay at least as much as they do to songwriters. Mr. Cohen compares his platform to Spotify, which arguably provides a reduced service since its music isn’t accompanied with video. But Spotify and other subscription services such as Apple Music pay a statutory minimum rate for interactive streaming, and YouTube does not. Paying this minimum rate — dictated by Section 115 of the Copyright Act and determined by the courts — would provide a floor for working writers who need a minimum wage from the world’s largest music service. Though music played on YouTube is not a traditional mechanical reproduction covered under Section 115, this would guarantee songwriters something reliable they could take to the bank — and is still woefully inadequate, considering the contribution songwriters make to YouTube’s services.

Finally, our fifth suggestion is stylistic: YouTube should change its tone when it comes to takedowns. For years, YouTube displayed a red sad face where a proper takedown of pirated material occurred. This gave millions, if not billions, of consumers the idea that when the law is enforced, it’s something to be upset about. This taught users — particularly millennials — to expect free content on the Internet. However, imagine the reality for songwriters and music creators — who poured their hearts and finances into creating something — to see a digital company that is using their work express disappointment when their rights are enforced. No one wants music to be taken down, but we do need a legitimate Internet marketplace, as opposed to the Wild West where writers are the casualties. Their work deserves to be valued, and it’s disappointing when it’s stolen, not the other way around.

As an association, we at NMPA have worked with YouTube to fix problems in the past. We know they can do better, and we appreciate Mr. Cohen’s love of music. But if he really wants to promote the creators of it, he should pay them what they deserve.

David Israelite is the President and CEO of the National Music Publishers’ Association (NMPA). Founded in 1917, NMPA is the trade association representing all American music publishers and their songwriting partners.

More Biz

  • 'Zootopia' Land Coming to Shanghai Disneyland

    Disney to Open 'Zootopia' Land at Shanghai Theme Park

    The Shanghai Disneyland theme park is to be expanded with the construction of a themed land based on the “Zootopia” animated film and its characters. It will be the first “Zootopia” land at any Disney park worldwide. “The rapid rate of expansion at Shanghai Disney Resort demonstrates our confidence and commitment to the company’s future [...]

  • David Glasser

    David Glasser to Launch $300 Million Shingle With Ron Burkle's Backing (EXCLUSIVE)

    David Glasser, the former chief operating officer of the Weinstein Co., is launching a $300 million film and TV company with the backing of billionaire investor Ron Burkle, Variety has learned. The formation of the production outfit, named 101 Studios, marks a fresh start for Glasser, who was in line to become CEO of the [...]

  • Harvey Weinstein arrives at New York

    Judge Refuses to Pause Weinstein Class Action Case

    A judge on Tuesday denied Harvey Weinstein’s request to put a class action lawsuit on hold pending the outcome of his criminal trial. Ten women have sued Weinstein in federal court in the Southern District of New York, accusing him of violating the federal sex trafficking statute. The suit also alleges that an array of [...]

  • Andrea Ganis Promoted to President of

    Atlantic Records Elevates Andrea Ganis to President of Promotion

    Andrea Ganis has been promoted to the newly created position of president of promotion for Atlantic Records, it was announced today by Atlantic Chairman & COO Julie Greenwald and Chairman & CEO Craig Kallman. In her new role, she will continue to oversee all promotion activities for Atlantic and its subsidiary labels while serving on [...]

  • Roma

    Netflix Joins the Motion Picture Association of America

    UPDATED WASHINGTON — Netflix has joined the Motion Picture Association of America, a move that reflects its evolution as a major player in the movie business. The MPAA currently has six major studios as members, and it collected about $38 million in membership dues in 2017, according to its most recent filing with the IRS. [...]

  • Fate of 'Simpsons' Up in Air

    What Will Happen to 'The Simpsons’ as Disney Takes Over Fox?

    When “The Simpsons” ends its 30th and current season this spring, it will have racked up 663 original episodes — having a season ago passed “Gunsmoke” (635) as the longest-running scripted program in television history. But with the Walt Disney Co.’s acquisition of 21st Century Fox pending, one of TV’s least likely institutions could prove more [...]

  • Best Worst Performances Pink

    Pink, Muse, Chris Stapleton to Headline Citi Sound Vault During Grammy Week

    Pink, Muse and Chris Stapleton will headline Citi Sound Vault, the three-night live-music platform taking place at the Hollywood Palladium during Grammy week. Pink will kick off the Live Nation-produced series on Feb. 7, followed by Muse on Feb. 9 and Stapleton on Grammy night, the 10th. “This will be my first time performing at the [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content