Looney Tubes! Warner Brothers Vs YouTube

Corpy Pig By Mister Lion

Many Youtube users may have noticed that their uploaded videos featuring their favourite bands music have been mysteriously disappearing from the popular on-line video sharing site. It appears that this is due to negotiations between YouTube and Warner Brothers breaking down over the thorny issue of music licensing,copyright infringement and of course money.  In a nutshell it transpires that Warners are seeking increased  renumeration for having its music hosted on YouTube, who also have deals with Universal Music, Sony and EMI Music. Experts suggest that Warner’s action may prompt other music companies to demand more money, at present under the current YouTube terms they earn either a minimum fee of less than a penny every time a music video is viewed on the site or a split of advertising revenue, whichever revenue is bigger.

Such demands could leave YouTube in a difficult position as it tries to balance the need to pay a reasonable fee to content partners, including TV and movie companies, and also generate a decent return on the substantial investment needed to keep streaming millions of videos around the world.  At present thousands of videos from artists such as Madonna and The Red Hot Chilli Peppers  are now being taken down at Warner’s request (every cloud has a silver lining though  James Blunt and Kid Rocks’ videos are also being removed- Huzzah! )Warner complain that the monies they receive from youtube are ‘staggeringly’ low, and go  on to say “We simply cannot accept terms that fail to appropriately and fairly compensate recording artists, songwriters, labels and publishers for the value they provide,”

So what do the very people Warners claim to represent, the musicians make of it all ? Dresden Dolls singer Amanda Palmer said recently “Roadrunner is a subsidiary of Warner and I’m stuck in hell with Madonna and the other poor bastards, because Warner wants more money. Even worse, Warner has almost no bargaining power… They’re not even in the top ten of labels who have huge artists with material streaming on YouTube. They’re just starving for cash right now and they’re doing anything they can think of to come up with cash. It’s ABSURD. They are looking for money in a totally backwards way. Money that, I should point out, I would NEVER see as an artist. If they got their way and YouTube decided to give them a larger revenue share of the videos, it’s very unlikely it would ever make it’s way into the artists’ bank accounts”

A number of Lush videos have also been removed from YouTube, although there is an issue centred around  if Warners still actually own any copyright. It would  appear that  Reprise Records (owned by WB) licence for Lush’s music  expired in 2004 !  But when an organisation as powerful as Warners shout, people don’t question them.  Lush singer Miki Berenyi has had enough of it “I’m somewhat amazed that Warners can simply SAY that they own the rights to a video and the entire world craps itself without even asking them for any kind of proof. What’s more, given that they have no plans whatsoever to release any Lush videos (they would have to at least tell us they were going to, even if they did own the rights!), it’s not even as if having the Lush content out there is sabotaging any future income for them. I am, as I write, still trying to get to the bottom of this but have so far only come up against a faceless and impenetrable wall of bureaucracy. I’ll keep you posted!”

Its not just Warner’s that adopt a rather draconian approach to user generated content on YouTube, other big labels are trying to find ways of eeking out a few extra pounds from having content they claim they own on the site.  On one hand the big labels  seem to  have free YouTube accounts, and happily upload their content, designed, one assumes to publicise their acts, with a view to  maximising their audience etc. At the same time they seem to want the guy who owns the bill board to pay up for advertising their “product”.  The whole debate has thrown up many contradictions, for example big labels will send out a press release on their latest “hot property” and within the spin you may well find statements such as “30,000 hits on you tube alone” and “ YouTubes most popular video” etc etc, yet they also disable the ability to embed these “official videos” elsewhere, shutting the door on more exposure for their artists. Fair enough you may think, they don’t want their artists videos appearing on every Tom, Dick and Harry’s site,  its all about the  artistic integrity of their product isn’t it ? Erm actually no !  It’s  simply due to the fact that YouTube will only pay a share of revenue for content played directly from their site, not for content embedded elsewhere.

Another  recent development,  is the recent  policy of “muting”  user generated videos, (example HERE).  YouTube users often create an original video using their favorite song’s as the audio, but it looks like this could be a thing of the past  as You Tube have started  muting videos that use unauthorized copyrighted music. The implications for Youtube as we know it are huge;  it could potentially  lead to  thousands and  thousands of fan made videos, spoofs, remixes and cover versions being removed from the site.

The  whole farrago opens up the digital debate once more and would indicate that maybe the big players in the music industry are still struggling to understand and deal with the “net effect”. To some it may appear that the corporate giants that once dominated the industry are  behaving like some kind of embarrassing  uncle crashing a teen disco and saying “Come on kids, this is how we did it back in our day” … What they don’t seem to grasp is the fact that they are alienating music fans. Most fans don’t want to rip off or hurt the bands they love, but have little time for corporate bully boys, as is testified by the many messages being left on YouTube by disgruntled fans.

Chuck D  summed up the situation quite succinctly  “ Technology giveth and it taketh away, and the industry knows this, The horseshoe makers probably got upset at the train manufacturers because (the new industry) took away their transport dominance, just as the train manufacturers probably got mad at the airline industry.” And when the Industry gets mad it would appear threats and bullying seem to be the natural way of responding as the corporate mantra “our legal team will be in touch” is invoked.  Yet punitive actions, such as threats, putting pressure on ISP’s to reveal files sharers names and suing individual fans doesn’t exactly endear the big labels to your average music fan, or indeed engender much sympathy.   As Billy Bragg said “You know who the pirates are? The pirates are our fans, when you sue our fans, you drive our fans away.” Bragg believes the entire music industry requires root and branch change, and that the first focus in this should be a fair income for artists, large and small.

So have Warners cut off their nose to spite their face? It remains to be seen if the demand for more cash  will benefit the musicians as it  means one less marketing medium for video content, it will of course add  additional costs for  Warner Music in terms of  “policing” the site for infringing material and  as mentioned such action will possibly alienate their target audience. So for Warner Brothers and their artists it would  appear that at present in terms of YouTube content it really is  a case of “That’s All Folks” .

UPDATE : As this post was being published I have received  notification that Warners have removed their copyright claim to Lush videos.  This is due to  in the main  to Miki and Emma’s admirable  sense of injustice, so a big thanks to them for challenging “the MAN”.  It  shows that it might be  worth looking into these alleged claims on copyright. As Emma Anderson said ” Legally they (Warners) didn’t own them (Lush videos) anyway so they didn’t have a leg to stand on! The thing is they only LICENSED the videos from 4AD anyway, but they  just went ahead and undertook  blanket action  contacting  anyone who’d ever had  videos  that once related  to Warners “.

lushCopyright Explained


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