YouTube poised to block indie musicians over subscription service dispute

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YouTube users who like watching videos from indie label artists such as Adele, Arctic Monkeys, and Radiohead could soon lose access to their videos on the Google-owned site, thanks to a copyright fight between the indies and the video-sharing service.

The dispute, as reported by the Financial Times, stems from Google’s planned launch of its YouTube Music Pass subscription service. In exchange for paid access, users will get ad-free content, and download music to their mobile devices. YouTube Music Pass is slated for a launch initially through Google soon, with wider availability later this year.

To launch its music subscription service legally, Google has had to negotiate new licensing contracts with the music labels. So far the three monster labels—Universal, Sony, and Warner—have signed deals with Google. But the smaller indie labels have not, because they’re not happy with the payment terms that Google is offering them. It comes down to three small words: Not. Enough. Money.

If the indies don’t sign, Google will block their videos from being shown on YouTube. According to Robert Kyncl, YouTube’s head of content and business operations, this could happen “in a matter of days”.

Google’s “my way or the highway” tactics are causing howls of protest from indie music artists. “YouTube are shooting themselves in the foot with their attempt to strong-arm independent labels into signing up to such low rates,” said renowned indie singer Billy Bragg. “They’re in danger of launching a streaming service that lacks the innovative and cutting-edge sounds that independent artists bring.”

The Worldwide Independent Network (WIN), which represents the indie music community, is a bit more diplomatic in its protests. WIN chief executive Alison Wenham told the BBC that YouTube is “making a grave error of commercial judgment in misreading the market”.

“Music fans want a service that offers the complete range of music available,” Wenham added. “This is something that companies such as Spotify and Deezer do, both of whom have excellent relationships with the independent music sector.”

As for Google’s take on the indie gafuffle? A unattributed statement making the rounds of the media—one that bears the marks of many PR flacks crafting something benign, vague, and upbeat—says the following: “Our goal is to continue making YouTube an amazing music experience, both as a global platform for fans and artists to connect, and as a revenue source for the music industry. We’re adding subscription-based features for music on YouTube with this in mind—to bring our music partners new revenue streams in addition to the hundreds of millions of dollars YouTube already generates for them each year. We are excited that hundreds of major and independent labels are already partnering with us.”

In other words, it’s full steam ahead for YouTube Music Pass, with or without any reluctant indies. If you want to watch Adele one last time on YouTube, you’d better do it soon.

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