September 8, 2017:Facebook ‘respects the value of artists’ – so it should pay them

Facebook’s VP EMEA Nicola Mendelsohn delivered the guest keynote at British industry body the BPI’s annual general meeting yesterday.

Awkward timing, given this month’s speculation about Facebook waving ‘hundreds of millions of dollars’ at music rightsholders to cover music in user-uploaded videos on the social network?

Not really: Mendelsohn is a safe pair of hands in terms of not blabbing licensing gossip to a room full of labels and journalists, and with no Q&A section and a sharp exit while the AGM was still going, there was no opportunity to press her on Facebook’s licensing strategy.

The BPI will (probably rightly) feel pleased enough that Facebook showed willing to send an executive, especially one able to reminisce about a youth spent “dancing in the Hacienda” in Manchester three times a week.

But even when being carefully bland about Facebook’s attitude towards music, Mendelsohn may rile rightsholders who’ve been pushing the social network to get its licensing house in order. “We also understand and respect the value of all artists,” she said, pointing to Facebook’s development of a Content ID-style copyright protection system.

The counter-argument is that right now, Facebook’s understanding of the value of artists is less about paying them for usage of their music, and more about them paying Facebook for the right to reach their fans on the social network.

“There are 880 million people who have liked a music-related page on Facebook,” said Mendelsohn, highlighting artists’ use of live video, Messenger bots, and new features like the ability to string individual events into a tour. “It’s thanks to feedback from artists that we can make updates like this…”

Even so, artists and labels would be forgiven for pointing out that the flow of dollars is currently one-way: reaching more than a sliver of those 880 million page-likers requires spending money to boost posts, and when something new (like live-video) turns up with strong engagement, the organic-reach plummet-hammer usually drops at some point.

There’s certainly a respect for the value of artists to Facebook’s bottom line, but that’s not the message the social network’s VP was hoping to deliver.

Which is not to write Facebook off as another safe-harbour-hogging royalty-shirker. The company *has* been putting a team in place to handle licensing; and it *has* been working on its copy protection system – a not inconsiderable task as the history and development costs of Content ID show.

As an increasingly-direct competitor for YouTube in the video field – for user-uploads and professional content alike – Facebook has an incentive to do the right thing. It’s just that public statements like “We also understand and respect the value of all artists” will raise expectations of delivering on that.

Stuart Dredge
READ MORE: Analysis News
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