Billy Bragg said in a press conference that he doesn't understand why Google would shoot itself in the foot by alienating indies. Frankly, neither do we.

Billy Bragg said in a press conference that he doesn’t understand why Google would shoot itself in the foot by alienating indies. Frankly, neither do we.

As Beats, Spotify, and others earn praise from indies, Google is looking like music’s biggest new villain. According to independent labels, Google is ignoring their collective negotiating groups, offering poor terms in comparison to what they offer majors, and then threatening to block artists and labels from YouTube if they don’t accept those disadvantaged license deals on the company’s new service. And a Google executive today all but publicly confirmed the threats to the press.

You might expect that Google would want to burnish its image in light of an upcoming paid streaming service (think Google clone of Spotify, possibly), especially with the public eyeing Amazon for strong-arming its publishers.

Instead, Google not only offers no public response to complaints from indies, but appears to be on the record promising it will ban music labels and artists have put on YouTube.

Here’s the latest:

YouTube’s chief of content and business operations, Robert Kyncl, has told the Financial Times that the company will block videos from artists and labels who haven’t signed new license terms for the paid service. The reason: “to ensure that all content on the platform is governed by its new contractual terms.”

There are several reasons why this would be bizarre:
1. A Google executive appears to be publicly bragging about blocking indie content, even with a pending complaint to European regulators by those indies. (Um… ballsy.) See:
YouTube accused of trying to strong-arm indie labels into poor deals Trade body lodges formal complaint with European Commission over Google-owned site’s tactics [The Guardian]

2. This seems to mean YouTube as you know it now, not the paid service explicitly. And the promise is “within days” – even though the new service is expected later.

The other implication is that you won’t be able to view content free without a subscription pass. The Verge has a source that confirms some of these details, and suggests that Google may not want a hybrid service, part ad-supported, part subscription-based. If correct, that would indicate a fundamental shift in how YouTube shares music.

Regardless, if Google really is being fair to indie labels, they’re not taking that message to the public. And for now, every indication is that they’re being anything but fair.

Trade body WIN, which represents indies, calls the move a “catastrophic error of judgement” in The Guardian today. An interesting side note: in the same article, WIN is enthusiastic about the level playing field indie labels receive with the likes of Spotify, describing that relationship as “excellent.”

Indies had already taken their fight public. Artists and labels earlier this month held a press conference to complain of strong-arm tactics. There, they said Google had threatened to remove content from YouTube if they wouldn’t sign on – a claim Kyncl appears to confirm. Artists like Billy Bragg were on hand to argue the case.

The Register has proposed why labels would be so unhappy. Sources tell that outlet that YouTube made two moves to disadvantage indies. One, they went directly to indie labels individually with a boilerplate contract, rather than work with Merlin, which advocates on behalf of indies as a group. Just as a trade union allows workers to collectivize, in other words, Merlin improves the negotiating position of smaller labels.

Two, sources in the Register also say that Google is offering better license terms to majors than minor labels. That makes the threats to ban artists and labels from YouTube all the more chilling.

Compare the news from Merlin back in April regarding Beats Music, prior to that service’s Apple acquisition. Beats’ chief even bragged about the fair license terms in a Merlin press release:

“We are thrilled to be working with Merlin, Beats Music is committed to treating all artists and labels fairly and equally,” said Beats Music CEO Ian Rogers. “While other services may try to get away with paying independent labels and artists less, we’re paying all repertoire-owners equally because it’s the right thing to do.”

BEATS MUSIC & MERLIN OUTLINE “BENCHMARK DEAL” FOR THE GLOBAL INDEPENDENT MUSIC SECTOR

From Hypebot:

Beats Music Licensing Indies with Merlin, Pays Same Royalty Rate As Majors

It seems to me the big question is whether Google is bluffing or not as far as removing content from YouTube.

Indies rely on YouTube to promote their music.

Google needs those indies onboard for its music subscription service to be a success.

But by timing mass removals on YouTube months before the service launches, Google potentially has the upper hand. (It’s a genuinely evil tactic, but it might work.)

On the other hand, by alienating those indies, Google could doom its own efforts to compete with Microsoft, Spotify, Amazon, and Beats (now meaning also Apple).

There’s no question in my mind that this all directly impacts producers of music and independent taste makers. We need a healthy ecosystem of labels to support the music we make and care about. In turn, the health of the community that DJs, that creates new sounds, depends on the Internet being a level playing field for music.

Some readers reacting angrily to my piece last week:
In the Age of Beats and Spotify, Winners – and Opportunities

The counter argument was that I left out “losers,” and that content producers were at the top of that list. But I’m not convinced that has to be the case with streams. The reason I spoke of opportunities was not that I’m necessarily optimistic, but that I think, faced with an irreversible trend, it’s worth seeking out the light and finding success as the landscape shifts. And many artists are doing just that. There’s a reason artists and labels are so quick to upload their work to SoundCloud and YouTube, even without revenue: there’s some value there, when they have control.

I don’t think we know just where artists will land in this new world order. But we know the streaming model is coming with a vengeance, and that companies like Spotify, SoundCloud, Beats/Apple, and now Google will be gatekeepers.

One major question is just how those gatekeepers behave. And that depends on how the people making the music – and, perhaps, regulators like Europe – respond.

This is one to watch.

And Google, if you’re looking to make friends in the music world, uh, this is not a great way to go about it.

Postlude: Bottom line – this is about YouTube’s power more than it is even about royalties or negotiations.

Many readers have expressed skepticism about just how useful Spotify and Beats are to minor labels, whatever the indie trade groups may claim. But to me, this isn’t really about payouts.

The question is whether content you as an artist or label have uploaded to YouTube is now on the negotiating table. YouTube is ubiquitous enough that not being there could be damaging. Here, Google is using that power as leverage. And YouTube, in turn, is deeply integrated with Google search. That’s where the power of an Internet monoculture becomes so potentially damaging. That seems to matter more in the long term than what royalty rate you might negotiate. And it seems that regulators should consider whether this sort of power ought to be in Google’s hands in the first place.

  • https://plus.google.com/112767041460502214504 Greg Miernicki

    No biggie. If you’re an indie label just accept the new license agreement. Next question?

    • foljs

      Yeah, just bend over. Next question?

    • synapticflow

      lol

    • https://plus.google.com/112767041460502214504 Greg Miernicki

      It’s not really bending over. It’s accepting the new license agreement that allows YouTube to promote your material FREELY for you. Kind of a no brainer and doesn’t have any negative effects that would equate this to bending over and taking it up the ass. That is unless you can prove what I’ve just stated here is wrong. I’m sure the legalese is 100′s of pages long and that’s a TL;DR in my book.

    • Charles

      I give the indie label’s assessment of the deal much more credence than yours, thank you.

    • http://andrenascimento.net/ ElectroBlob

      Seriously?

  • James

    Great post.

    We need to get over the idea that Beats or Apple or Sony or Google or Spotify or any corporation is doing anything with the best interests of music or musicians in mind. They are no different than the old labels – controlling what people hear to the music that’s most profitable.

    They don’t define what’s cool, they don’t show good taste, they only use music as a tool to sell you something, sell you a licensing agreement and create a profile of who you are so that they can sell you more.

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Well, except the same indie groups here are praising Beats Music, praising Spotify and that relationship – even as they file a formal anti-competitive complaint with the European Commission. That’s a pretty big study in contrasts. And I guess that surprised me. Labels feel they are getting a decent deal with Spotify and Beats Music; Beats Music is even going on Merlin’s press release to talk about how great it is to give them fair royalties. Then you have a Google exec going to Financial Times and saying – yeah, we’re removing content so we can get the license deal we want.

      I think what’s different about Amazon and Google in this landscape is that they’re actively going out and screwing customers and publishers/labels on books and music, respectively, and doing it in the open.

      That’s what regulators should theoretically be preventing.

    • Adam Cahan

      Peter I think you may have missed (or perhaps just decided not to address – which is cool) an implication of James’ post. While Beats/Apple and Spotify are treating Indies well _now_, that can and will change if and/or when those companies decide that it is in their best interest (i.e. more profitable) for them to do so. Namely, a business is in the business of making money, and while some businesses may consider relationships an important part of their success, often businesses will put the shifting priorities of the bottom line first.

      Their tactics may be different _right_now_, but Google/Apple/Beats/Spotify (like any business) are all in the same game.

      Your point about Merlin==Unions is apt, as this is exactly why unions exist, at least in theory.

      Best
      -a

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Oh, of course. Any company could change tactics. Specifically, we don’t know what Beats will be like under Apple.

      Then again, those companies now have contracts, and a precedent. So I don’t disagree, but — this still is important to observe.

    • DPrty

      Google is evil .. I was one of the first users ever loved Google but now detest the company. I have now looked for an alternative to their search. I hate the fact that they track you and then return results based on what they think they know about you effectively bubbling you from new info. I found Duck Duck Go https://duckduckgo.com/ but its just ok. Youtube doing this is unfortunate as the only other service that comes close is Vimeo we are kinda screwed. Apple is also evil just ask anyone that jumped off a factory roof or that used Logic on a PC let alone those that used Redmatica sample software.

    • Adam Cahan

      I hear you. I think James’ initial statement is worth repeating:

      “We need to get over the idea that Beats or Apple or Sony or Google or Spotify or any corporation is doing anything with the best interests of music or musicians in mind.”

    • foljs

      “”"Their tactics may be different _right_now_”"”

      Yeah, so nothing is eternal. So? That’s not really an argument.

    • Mark Rushton

      Peter, you need to explain your opinion about Amazon. It was Hachette and all the other major publishers who conspired with Apple to drive up the prices of eBooks. There was an anti-trust lawsuit by the Justice Department which the majors settled and which Apple was found guilty of price fixing last year and is currently appealing. Amazon was not a target of that litigation. If you’re saying that Amazon’s current negotiations with Hachette are “screwing customers and publishers” then that’s kind of a stretch. Maybe you’re referring to something else.

      I am happy to see artists standing up and getting attention about inequities like we see here with Google/YouTube. The major music labels are always the problem. Same with the major book publishers. Both have a long tradition of screwing customers, musicians, and writers with payola, price-fixing, onerous contracts, non-payment of royalties, and theft of copyright.

  • Andy

    Whatever happened to “Don’t be evil”!

    • just passing

      Power.

    • synapticflow

      money

    • LLCoolJeans

      Corporations are designed to make money. If a CEO or whoever does something for “the good” of whatever shareholders will fire him for the thousands of people pining for that same job. You can’t blame corporations for being greedy, it’s their job. It’s ours to not buy their shit and tell our politicians to enact laws if they’re doing some real bullshit (though our politicians like to just tell corporations to stop being mean these days….)

    • Yup

      Cannot get over how many of you believed that tripe at the time. Many of you were internet utopians. Now with this and the end of Net Neutrality likely we’re gonna be worse off. Meet the new boss; same as the old boss. Oh wait, worse than the old boss!

    • Rant

      Google are the Standard Oil of our age. Once Rockerfeller made his fortune he turned to the next logic step, the acquisition of power and influence. Google are threading this self same path. The thinking behind the holocaust can be directly linked back to the studies he funded on eugenics back in the 1920s. This is not tin hat back of the internet conspiracy theories, it is a documented fact.

      I always worry when I hear statements like “I want to change the world”. What gives any individual or un-democraticly elected group the right to make that statement? It just shows ignorance of everything that we should value as a progressive society. Change the world for what? Your own benefit at the sacrifice of the greater good?

      “We won’t do evil” is as subjective a statement as “The best lady gaga song ever”. Evil as defined by whom?

    • rant

      The company is built on public funded research paid for people who get up every morning and go to work so their children can have a future. Yet all Google plans to do is put the very person who paid for the base on which they are built out of work. Without a proper tax base and high unemployment, the once virtuous circle is broken and everything goes slowly down the pan.

      Start to complain about underfunded education? Well there’s a youtube video now f*** off and learn how to program.

      To quote Charles Handy in his book The Age Of Unreason:

      “I like less the story that a frog if put in cold water will not bestir itself if that water is heated up slowly and gradually and will in the end let itself be boiled alive, too comfortable with continuity to realize that continuous change at some point may become intolerable and demand a change in behaviour”

      We are in the age of the frog.

    • rant

      To quote Eric Schmidt “I want to create a platform where everyone can just immediately find the best Lady Gaga song ever”

      “Best” as a measure of something subjective like artistic output. The stupidity of it is dumb founding.

    • Adam Smith

      That’s an actual quote?

      Jesus we’re fucked.

  • Adam Cahan

    Could this be a plus for Indies, if it pushes them to develop their own distribution networks, which would also allow for more of an Indie/mainstream contrast, and increase brand identification and decrease the ‘noise’ (i.e. music not appealing to core ‘Indie’ consumers) to the signal in the network? Genuinely curious about what those more informed think..

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      I think it does the opposite.

      Essentially, it forces them *into* Google’s distribution network, because otherwise the choice is being booted from YouTube. So whereas an indie might say, you know, this streaming deals don’t make sense for us, Google can come back at you and say – fine.

      No more YouTube. No music videos, no album teasers, nada.

      I mean, short of actually stripping indies from being listed on the Google search engine, I can’t think of anything more anticompetitive they could do.

      Now, maybe this exec is being misinterpreted. At best, then, it’s a Google PR gaffe of the tallest order. (You wouldn’t want to say that while someone is complaining about you to Europe, not when you’ve gotten in trouble with the EC before.) At worst, it is actually as stupid as it sounds.

    • Adam Cahan

      I hear you. Google is definitely being anticompetitive.

      But, would the core group of people who listen and buy indie music – those who spend the most money – follow indie labels into a different distribution network if indies were banned from youtube altogether? i.e., HBO vs NBC, sort of. Creating a distribution network catering to a specific audience as opposed to one big tent which is becoming increasingly more restrictive. Don’t know if I’m making sense. Not saying the Google thing is good.

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      I think they already *have* followed music elsewhere – look at the huge numbers SoundCloud is putting up.

      If you follow the big message from the indies above, though, it isn’t “Google, you’re killing us.” It’s “Google, ignore us at your own peril.”

    • Adam Cahan

      Good point about Soundcloud. And I was reminded of your post about that label starting its own streaming service.

    • Popo Bawa

      I don’t see how it forces people into dealing with Google. If the YouTube deal isn’t favorable, what’s wrong with no YouTube? If I post flash video on the web and it’s not connected to their crappy social media framework, I don’t understand how that’s any great loss. YT has not been my first choice for the past five years anyway.

  • heinrichz

    Google is the epitome of evil corporate empire and i don’t see much redeeming quality in many of their other new product activities.

  • just passing

    Can anyone suggest a halfway decent way to get several hundred MB of email archives out of gmail? I think this is the point at which I stop using google altogether, and that’s my biggest hurdle.

    • just passing

      (Never mind. Google allow downloading stuff as .zip files, although they do take an unbounded amount of time to actually MAKE the archive. The fun bit is going to be tracking down everyone who has a gmail address for me and giving them an alternative.)

  • Lee Chaos

    The elephant in the room is that the more barriers the big companies put up to people legally getting hold of the content they love, the more people will be driven to illegal means of obtaining it…

  • genjutsushi

    The way out of this? Move wholesale to Vimeo… if Merlin could agree a deal with them to bring most indies to their platform, thus boosting the exclusive content available, then Vimeo would jump at the chance to increase their market share.

    One lesson that the internet has taught us in the last couple of years, is that there is always another way to reach your audience. If this means shifting to a different platform then so be it. Remember the hegemony that Myspace had over artist pages?

  • Markus Girrulat

    Thanks for this article (and the one before). Its sad (but not unexpected) to see such a major player act that unfair. There is another big problem. Indipendent “content” producers do not speak the same language. So tons of people were fighting against there own interest base “GEMA” in germany, while that google company made stupid jokes about them. At the end the looser is the musician once more… OK.. The gema is not a super up to date service… at least IT IS A SERVICE, that musicians cant participate in. People were saying, that the music industry was in a deep sleep and missed to create own digital alternatives. I would say for now muscians are sleeping to join in a big enough lobby to create impact. For now many muscians seem to switch there main product “music creation” into a marketing tool to earn money with something else like concerts. What if musicians would say: FUCK google and use VIMEO. So many kids today listening music on youtube. Lets see, what that would have an impact on googles business model!

  • Martin

    Could we maybe please not jump to conclusions?
    a) I read an article elsewhere this morning (cannot find it anymore though, was somewhere on Reuters/DPA or so) that stated that the above claims (“we will boot you if you don’t play nicely”) was only applicable to the new _PAID_ music service. did I misread that? or does everybody else jump the “google sucks” train too quickly?
    b) have there really not been enough occasions in the past where some guy said something to some newspaper or blog, gets his words in a jumble, and consequently triggers a shitstorm of epic proportions that derails itself entirely…
    and in the end it turns out it was just a misunderstanding/the dude had no clue what he´s talking about?

    just saying…

    • heinrichz

      No, it’s time to start looking for some alternatives, we can’t be beholden to the likes of Google any longer.

  • J_

    well other people can still upload your music even if the label can’t? considering how much of youtube’s good content is illegal i think that’s their intention as much as anything. if the label was on youtube they have to go after the unpaid content providers? the people that upload stuff just because they like it add a lot of value because their uploads are based on taste and cross label and time boundaries making it more likely they have similar tastes to the person watching the video.

    youtube is a sea of distraction and endless novelty though and i don’t think a good place to sell music because you’re not just competing people’s attention to other music, you’re competing with their attention to everything?

    do people still watch music videos to hear music though? if you make a good video why not say “featuring music by” and then they can search and find a band camp or whatever.

    tbh, it’s probably better marketing to upload anonymously and let it go “viral”.

    or what about an app? do apple or google host the video files if you offer them for downloads within a free app? i mean, imo this is the kind of things labels should be doing for artists. i and any other fool like me can upload music on our own.

    develop simple games or augmented reality or feature communication with the artist and yeah maybe video, but i bet comics would be just as appealing if not more so, depending on what fits the artist and their music best, offer it all up in an app and people will want to spend time in your label’s “world” exploring and pay for the “micro transactions” i.e. unlocking music.

    imo the majority or “indie labels” don’t seem to offer anything to the musician other than a name, re-enforcing the old status quo that there needs to be a gatekeeper to creativity in order to keep the rabble out.

  • Tony Scharf

    Google doesn’t give a shit because google doesn’t have to.

  • Tony Scharf

    But what happens to a musician who *isn’t* trying to make money on youtube? I post videos of my sound experiments with no commercial intent in mind. Does this mean my videos will also be removed because I am an ‘artist’? I hope the answer is no..

    If so….hello Vimeo!

    • newmiracle

      Good point. Let alone anyone posting bootleg remixes or songs with uncleared samples. These are things that could be fair use as long as they aren’t trying to make money off of them… except now Google is mandating that you *have* make money off of them? Its like a weird end run around fair use without technically banning it.

      And what if you *were* trying to make money off your music, but told Google you weren’t? How would they verify that you were lying? What if you make separate “YouTube mixes” that weren’t ‘for sale’, but pointed to other mixes of a song for sale that wasn’t on YouTube? What about brief parts of songs as a preview/promotional sample? Are those exempt from the rules? Well then how much needs to be ‘cut out’ in order to qualify as a “sample” vs. a “partial song” vs. “a full song”? What if you don’t make money selling music but make money performing your original music?
      I could go on. So many questions as to how this is actually going to work.

  • newmiracle

    I’m just surprised at the general conceptual shift for YouTube. If this is what it seems to be… what would prevent them from taking indie movies/cartoons off of YouTube unless they sign up for google play? Or basically removing any specific kind of YouTube video until they sign up for X or get funneled through profit center Y?

    Sure, I guess that is their right. Sure, I suppose they could try and get money from it and succeed somewhat.

    But YouTube *is* internet video. It is more than a platform. It has embedded itself into the DNA of the internet. Of digital culture. And all of that is based off of what is fundamentally a policy of, “Post any audio or video that isn’t blatantly porn or horrifically disturbing, and we will host it more or less forever to be viewed by more or less anyone with an internet connection. For free.”

    Screwing with these indie labels messes with that concept in a very fundamental way. I’m not sure what the math is in terms of ROI. But I’m having a hard time trying understand jeopardizing your ability to own publicly archived internet video as we know it all for an attempt at creating… what? A Spotify killer?

    I’m open to discussion, so maybe someone could enlighten me. But I don’t get it.

  • Luke Arthur

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    You can try Replay Media Catcher FREE. The free demo is fully functional so that you can try all of the features. You can capture 100% length of all YouTube videos, and 50% length of everything else.

  • Downpressor

    Whether or not the Google representative was misinterpreted or not kind of does not matter. Even if an “official” video from an indie label is not present, someone will upload the song anyway so Google gets to sell ads in either case.

    As for a paid streaming service, I rather doubt that Google sees that as a strategic business at all. Apple, Amazon and Spotify are actually strategically invested in selling content. Google is strategically invested in advertising with a side business of making other apps and services for what seems to be the sole purpose of tossing caltrops in the path other businesses.

  • name user

    consolidation isn’t innovative, this is the death of everything. shitty old netlabel sites that networked entirely through links to artists/labels offered a greater benefit to splintered creative communities than this massive cyclone of interconnected shit

    slsk, notepad.exe, file directories and messageboard shitposts. that’s been the high water mark so far. growing new darknets/undernets is the only meaningful way to move forward

  • dogewowdoge

    all the more reason to dislike google.

  • rantover

    All I can say is f**k Google. The European commission needs to grow a pair of balls and start coming down on their monopoly advantage tactics.

    Google is shaping up to the Standard Oil of our generation, but worse.

    Here’s just one example, Google is built on tax payer funded research. They are *not* an innovative company. They then use this public funded research to “disrupt” the working man/woman who paid for the research in the first place out of a job. They don’t pay any tax back in so the working man’s kids don’t get educated and the once virtuous circle is now broken. Worse short term with thinking than the banking crisis with a greater systemic threat and it is slowly coming down the road like an automated car driving at 25 miles an hour max with a uncanny valley smile face on it.

    • Adam Smith

      Too right.Corporations are of course the ultimate welfare queens. Around 90% of technical innovations in the last 40 years have been made via state funded research,(mostly military unfortunately). You’d probably find the same story for the 40 years before that,especially after the second world war,when large corporations like IBM and Lockheed began buddying up with politicians and bureaucrats in a way that both found very advantageous. This investment via the state and the military industrial complex makes us all technically investors.It’s just that we’re investors with no real say,increasingly fewer rights,and most crucially no real share in the fruits of all of this.

      I’ve got my pitchfork ready.Make the call and I’ll go down to Googleplex (what a wanky name for a corporate headquarters) and we can torch the fucking place.The firefighters can then refuse to put the fire out,because Google hasn’t paid for that service…

  • Hans Schnakenhals

    “YouTube is ubiquitous enough that not being there could be damaging.”
    “could” is the keyword here, it really also depends on what your target audience is, that also counts for spotify e.g. – reaching as many people as possible might not be as important for niche music for instance, as reaching the right people.

  • http://vrpr.org/ Henry

    I’ve been looking after music videos e.g. on Vimeo already for quite some time. And yes, even though the vast majority still uses Youtube to promote their videos, there is already an increasing amount of good (whatever that means for you) content available on th likes of Vimeo, Dailymotion or – mainly in Germany – tape.tv

    So, there are alternatives available that work equally well. And if a critical mass of content producers (i.e. music and video artists) would make use of those alernatives, we might see a significant shift in how things are made available.

    I am not totally naive. I know that the few majors in music industry make by far the largest part of content. And they appeal the largest part of the customers. But guess what happened if “all indies” would not be on Youtube, but on Vimeo instead? (And I hope they’re getting their server infrastructure ready in time…)

  • toneyrome

    (via techdirt.com) Before, you had two options:

    Post your video and monetize it via YouTube’s partner program with a bit of ad revenue.

    Post your video and don’t monetize it.

    And now you’ll have these two options:

    Post your video and monetize it via YouTube’s partner program with a bit of ad revenue andsome subscription revenue

    Post your video and don’t monetize it.

  • Almark

    We made YouTube what it is, and now they use us for their own corp greed, appalling. The artists, the content makers and the musicians are what make YouTube what it is. Google is fattening itself from the fill of people it uses for it’s own greed, for shame.