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YouTube accused of strong-arming musicians into strict contracts (GOOG)
Ed Schipul/Wikimedia Commons (CC)Zoe Keating
An independent musician and YouTube have locked horns over claims the streaming site threatened to “block” her if she didn’t agree to extensive new terms and a five-year contract, the Guardian reports.
YouTube hit back, claiming her allegations were “patently false” — prompting the publication by the musician of emails and conversation transcripts suggesting such a threat was in fact made.
Zoe Keating has been distributing her music on YouTube for the last several years, and monetising third-party uploads of her material using Content ID. Content ID is YouTube’s automated software for detecting copyright infringement — it flags up infringing material and allows rightsholders to either have it taken down, or to monetise it by running adverts alongside it.
But earlier this month she was approached by a YouTube representative, who, she alleges on her blog, told her that she needed “to sign on to the new YouTube music services agreement or I will have my YouTube channel blocked.”
These terms, she said, involved agreeing to have her entire catalogue on both YouTube and its premium Music Key service; monetising all her songs; releasing new material on YouTube at the same time as elsewhere (“so no more releasing to my core fans first on Bandcamp and then on iTunes”); and uploading her catalogue at 320kbps quality. The contract would last for 5 years.
YouTube then hit back, telling industry blog Digital Music News that the threat of blocking is “patently false.”
“Any creator (musician or not) can choose to upload or keep their videos on YouTube by simply agreeing to the basic terms of service that everyone on YouTube agrees to,” a Google employee wrote in emails published by the site. “If a music artist would like to monetise their videos on YouTube, they need to sign the music agreement.”
In short: Keating wouldn’t be blocked, but she needs to agree to YouTube’s terms if she wants to monetise her content.
Here’s a third-party upload of one of Zoe Keating’s videos:
But Keating hit back in other published emails, saying that her rep told her if she didn’t sign, “Google will block my channel and disallow monetisation via Content ID.”
It appears that Keating recorded the conversation between her and the rep, and she’s now posted a transcript of part of it to her blog to
Keating: If i wanted to just let content ID keep doing it’s thing, and it does a great job at and i’m totally happy with it and i don’t want to participate in the music service, is that an option?
Rep: That’s unfortunately not an option.
Keating: Assuming i don’t want to, then what would occur?
Rep: So what would happen is, um, so in the worst case scenario, because we do understand there are cases where our partners don’t want to participate for various reasons, what we basically have to do is because the music terms are essentially like outdated, the content that you directly upload from accounts that you own under the content owner attached to the agreement, we’ll have to block that content. but anything that comes up that we’re able to scan and match through content ID we could just apply a track policy but the commercial terms no longer apply so there’s not going to be any revenue generated.
The Register’s Andrew Orlowski claims that Google has been “humbled by a single musician with a tape recorder.” However, a Google representative has confirmed to Business Insider that Keating (or other content creators) who choose not to opt the new terms will still have access to Content ID, allowing them to police the site for infringing material easily.
It’s a significant detail: If it weren’t the case “artists would have to manually find videos using their music, and file individuals takedown requests with YouTube to get them removed, the Guardian’s Stuart Dredge writes — an “onerous” process that would be “a bigger threat than blocking her channel.”
It also disproves what The Trichordist wrote in an article fiercely critical of YouTube and Google — that “artists who reject the Music Key deal would no longer be able to block unauthorised uploads of their music on YouTube — unless the artists track each upload and send a separate DMCA notice.”
There’s obviously a question of mixed messages here — Keating was under the impression that she’d be blocked by failing to agree, while YouTube is insisting that’s not the case. But an article in Billboard has prompted a response from YouTube clarifying certain matters, including that if Keating doesn’t opt in, her material will not be included in Music Key. It’d previously been a worry that it’d be added whether she agreed or not.
But there’s also a broader debate about websites attempting to force new terms on existing users of the site.
The Guardian argues that Google’s actions in the current dispute will disproportionately affect independent artists who don’t have the negotiating weight of a record label behind them. “The terms signed by those labels… have unsurprisingly been kept secret,” Stuart Dredge writes, “but it’s highly likely that some of the terms objected to by Keating will have been scrubbed from their final agreements.”
On the flipside, however, users like Keating do not pay YouTube and Google a dime. They agreed to the terms upon registration, and if YouTube decides to update them and they don’t like it, they’re under no compulsion to continue (especially now there’s confirmation they can police their content on the site, whether they opt in or not). There’s certainly a discussion to be had over how “artist-friendly” YouTube is being — but ultimately, it just proves how little recourse users have in our new “free” web economy.