Music publishers sue YouTube MCN Fullscreen for copyright infringement


fullscreen-black-square-logo-01The brave new world of YouTube multi-channel networks (MCNs) is presenting big opportunities for music, but also some familiar licensing rows. News yesterday from the US National Music Publishers Association (NMPA) illustrated both.

The body has agreed “in principle” a licensing deal with one of the biggest MCNs, Maker Studios, which will pay publishers and songwriters for “past infringement” as well as future use of their works by Maker’s stable of YouTubers. However, the NMPA is suing rival MCN Fullscreen for copyright infringement.

“The problem of copyright infringement and unlicensed use of music is endemic to the MCN industry,” said NMPA boss David Israelite in a statement. “Fullscreen’s success and growth as a digital business is attributable in large part to the prevalence and popularity of its unlicensed music videos.”

The announcement notes that Fullscreen has a network of more than 15k YouTube channels with 200m subscribers, and averages 284m video views a month in the US – although the proportion which include music is unknown. For its part, Fullscreen has declined to comment publicly on the lawsuit.

The issue has been festering for a while though: earlier this year, NMPA board member Matt Pincus wrote a stern op-ed piece attacking MCNs for their “abysmal” approach to licensing music, noting that Maker Studios had been in business for more than four years before signing its first licensing deal with a publisher, and that neither Maker nor Fullscreen had deals with “more than a handful of independent publishers”.

Yet it’s important to note that they *have* signed deals. Universal Music Publishing Group signed up Maker Studios and Fullscreen in February, and Fullscreen already had a similar deal in place with Warner/Chappell.

Labels are fascinated by the businesses of MCNs, with Universal Music recently launching its own YouTube-focused label to capitalise on the trend. But with cover versions continuing to be a staple for the young musicians signed to companies like Fullscreen and Maker Studios, publishers’ anger at not getting paid has reached its predictable conclusion.

Written by: Stuart Dredge