Last week, we reported on the latest public row between the music industry and Google, in the form of independent label bodies attacking YouTube over its licensing tactics for its upcoming subscription music service.
The fight is stepping up a notch this week. Later today, executives from indie bodies WIN and IMPALA will share a press conference stage in London with musicians Billy Bragg and Tom McRae to lay out their concerns. But the bodies are also set to take the battle to regulatory authorities in Europe.
The Guardian reports that WIN will lodge a formal complaint today with the European Commission over what it says is bullying negotiations by YouTube – sidelining indie licensing agency Merlin in favour of sending non-negotiable contracts to labels, accompanied by a threat to block their music on YouTube if they don’t sign.
Although it’s a different channel to the recent ‘right to be forgotten’ ruling by the European Union’s court of justice against Google, that case was nevertheless a reminder that European authorities do have teeth when it comes to large US internet companies – and Google in particular.
What’s clear already – and will likely be more so after the press conference today – is that prominent artists will play a major role in the labels’ campaign against YouTube.
“They are in danger of launching a streaming service that lacks the innovative and cutting edge sounds that independent artists bring. Would music fans be willing to pay for such an inferior product? I don’t think so,” said Bragg, ahead of the event.
“Indie artists and labels are at the cutting edge of the future of music. To restrict them in this way is to risk creating an internet just for the superstars and big businesses,” added Radiohead’s Ed O’Brien, who’s heavily involved in the Featured Artists Coalition. We expect more artists to add their voices in the days and weeks to come.
YouTube’s public statements remain focused on two points – it has lots of existing deals with independent labels, and it doesn’t comment on in-play negotiations.
Merlin remains silent in this debate, hampered by its position at the negotiating table with YouTube and the strict NDAs that accompany that. YouTube’s attempts to cut out the licensing middleman represent a challenge to Merlin’s authority, but bodies like WIN and individual artists have the freedom to speak out on its behalf.
YouTube may well have a case to answer to the competition authorities, but if more musicians join Bragg in waving their “flaming pitchforks” – a phrase from his interview with Music Ally earlier this year – this could be toxic for YouTube’s music ambitions regardless of how the EC reacts to WIN’s complaint.