It is open season once again on Google and YouTube in the US, following the RIAA’s decision to make the ‘value gap’ a key part of its 2015 figures announcement.

A blog post by the MusicFirst Coalition has torn into Google and YouTube over the disparity between parent company Alphabet’s $21.33bn of Q4 revenues last year, and its payouts to the music industry.

“Even as Google/Alphabet continues to build its empire on a foundation of music, it pays the musicians and record companies whose music undergirds its massive success and growth next to nothing,” is the way the post put it.

The Coalition’s chief bugbear remains the DMCA safe harbour legislation, and Google/YouTube’s use of it. “Internet Service Providers were considered ‘passive’ internet-hosting companies, and not profiteering, ad-dollars guzzling mega-corporations,” claims the post.

“Today, Google is far from ‘passive’ in the massive enterprise of illegally pirated music: YouTube clearly distributes and capitalises from others’ creative work. The company makes bank off the advertising it actively targets at specific users and layers atop illegal copies of music. Yet it still claims the ‘hear no evil, see no evil’ amnesty of the DMCA, which Congress intended only for ‘passive’ intermediaries.”

This, in a neat nutshell, sets out the arguments we’re going to see rage over the rest of this year and beyond, as music industry bodies on both sides of the Atlantic press for reform of the respective American and European rules on safe harbour.

“Laws from the age of ‘Ask Jeeves’ must be updated for the Google/YouTube goliath,” is how the MusicFirst Coalition put it. The rhetoric may be increasingly heated on the part of rightsholders, but we expect Google to have more to say on these issues too.

The company has regularly defended itself from accusations that its search engine fuels piracy – including at length in its How Google Fights Piracy report – but may be due a similarly-public defence on the value-gap criticism beyond its repeated claim that YouTube and Google combined have paid out $3bn to music rightsholders over the years.

Now read: Why safe harbour will be the music industry’s big battle in 2016

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