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The days the music died on YouTube

Submitted by on Monday, 23 March 2009 No Comment

Sometimes it’s hard to decide who to root for in a hissing match between giants such as the one that’s been going on since December between Warner Music Group and YouTube/Google.

Unable to reach a new licensing agreement through which YouTube would give up a cut of revenue from views of music videos, Warner began issuing takedown orders. Musicians ranging from Fleetwood Mac to Faith Hill began disappearing.

Warner’s gripe: The company’s take under the old agreement – a combination of pay-per-click and a share of advertising revenue – wasn’t as much as the label thought it would be. No doubt Warner also saw bigger dollar signs flashing in its eyes when Google bought YouTube.

Well and good. Warner owns the “intellectual property” and Warner can license it as it sees fit. I’d be the first to jump up and down if someone were lifting my copyrighted material, too.

Except Warner started going nutso, and takedown notices began appearing for family videos that used snippets of copyrighted material. That’s an issue, by the way, that’s not been fully litigated. Used to be, lawyers advised that a snippet was acceptable, particularly if it was not the focus of the video and if the video was not a commercial production.

And then Juliet Weybret, a 15-year-old in Lodi, Calif., received a removal notice on her cover of “Winter Wonderland.” It’s not an isolated case, The New York Times reports.

Copyright lawyers told the Times that labels really have no gripe with people like Weybret,  when videos clearly aren’t  commercial venture. The problem, though, is the YouTube posting, because YouTube is a commercial venture.

The whole thing is starting to seem a little silly. One giant goes after another by putting a teen with dreams in the middle.

It’s easy to see why the recording industry is grabbing every penny it can: CD sales fell last year, and the rise in digital sales wasn’t enough to make up the difference. Google doesn’t disclose advertising revenue for YouTube, but even low estimates put the figures in the hundreds of millions, the Times reports.

Still, it’s baffling that Warner doesn’t understand that YouTube isn’t the enemy. If any upper management tried to listen to the company’s offerings online, they’d quickly figure out that it’s not always the ultimate musical experience even for broadband users.

What it can be, though, is exposure. Eventually, online listeners get tired of broken streams and lack of portability and go ahead and buy either the track or the CD. Just ask Dad: The guys’ YouTube addiction to Three Doors Down’s “Kryptonite” was why he finally bought an ancient album that included the song.

Warner’s move would almost make sense if it had decided it wanted to be YouTube. But instead of optimizing its titles at a single consolidated site, it instead offers selected cuts here and there, scattered across Web sites for each of its labels and artists. It hardly encourages user-friendly browsing.

Sometimes it’s hard to figure out who wastes more energy fighting technology: The recording industry or newspapers.

At least newspapers aren’t beating up on 15-year-olds.

Copyright 2009 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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