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In December, research firm Oxford Economics published a report commissioned by YouTube to quantify its ‘economic, societal and cultural impact’ in India. It claimed that in 2021, YouTube’s ecosystem contributed more than INR 10,000 crores (around $1.2bn) to India’s GDP, and more than 750,000 full-time equivalent jobs.

The report’s authors said they used music industry revenues as part of their calculations, and offered the positive claim that “80% of media and music companies with a YouTube channel agree that YouTube is an important source of revenue for their company”. However, it seems Indian music industry body IMI begs to differ.

IMI’s assistant manager, legal, Jenil Shah has written a guest piece for the Indian Express casting doubt on “the accuracy of the bemusing numbers” in YouTube’s report. The piece is a useful snapshot of the way familiar tensions over YouTube, music royalties and safe harbours are still bubbling in India, as they have done elsewhere in the world over the past decade.

“The report takes into account the published information on music industry revenues as one of the ingredients for calculating the estimated direct GDP contribution of YouTube’s creative ecosystem,” wrote Shah.

“As per the IMI estimates, the Indian recorded music industry suffers potential revenue losses between Rs 867 crore and Rs 1,200 crore due to the phenomena of value gap, growing digital music piracy and unauthorised content being shared on short video UGC apps.”

“Therefore, considering the music industry revenues without taking into consideration the losses borne by the stakeholders — due to the misuse of safe harbours by UGC platforms like YouTube itself — makes the report flawed for the purpose of reflecting the state of the Indian creative community.”

IMI wants the Indian government to crack down on safe harbours that apply to YouTube and other user-generated content platforms (short-video apps’ lack of licensing deals remains a hot topic in India too).

The ‘value gap’ debate may have quietened down in the west recently, as YouTube’s subscription music business has grown to the extent that it hopes to overtake Spotify for payouts in the next few years. However, those safe-harbour tensions are clearly still twanging in India.

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