YouTube may finally have to pay the music industry— and thousands of artists — the money they deserve.
YouTube has a long, rocky relationship with the music industry.
Thanks to a longtime exploitation of ‘safe harbor’ loopholes in copyright law, YouTube has only paid the bare minimum in royalties. Despite having nearly 1.4 billion users uploading and watching user-generated content – including music videos – payouts are notoriously low. According to the latest calculations, artists and other content creators only receive $0.0007 per video play.
Now, Google could be forced to pay the music industry billions.
Earlier today, the European Union’s legal affairs committee approved the controversial measure known as Article 13. Members of European Parliament (MEPs) seek to ensure content creators, artists, authors, and journalists are “paid fairly” for their work online.
If approved by the EU, internet tech giants — including Google, Microsoft, and Facebook — would have to install “effective technologies” to prevent copyright infringement. Basically, this amounts to a copyright filter or content scanner.
Similar to YouTube’s Content ID, the filters would automatically detect whether an uploaded image, video, or other media content infringes on existing copyrights. The difference is that the platforms would have to automatically reject infringing content. Or, pay the negotiated price for content that is recognized.
The measure faces stiff competition from tech lobbyists, consumer groups, and civil liberty organizations. This could force the European Union to ultimately dismiss today’s ruling.
But what does Article 13 mean for the music industry?
Simple. YouTube could no longer exploit the lack of legal protection on digital media to avoid paying full royalties. Google would have to pay artists and major labels what’s fair.
The video platform has long billed itself as a “neutral intermediary.” Users – not YouTube – break the law by posting infringing content. Google merely hosts it on the video platform.
The Vienna Commercial Court didn’t buy that argument. Two weeks ago, the court found that YouTube actively sorts, filters, and links all video content, including those containing copyrighted material.
In other words, YouTube’s not a “neutral content provider.” And yes, it can be held liable for copyrighted material users upload if Austria’s ruling stands. Goodbye, low artist payouts. Say farewell to the company’s abysmal “value gap.” That is, if the latest round of court rulings and pro-copyright voting survives.
Of course, Article 13 wouldn’t only apply to YouTube.
Websites that depend on user-generated content – Facebook, Twitter, and Vimeo, among many others – would have to closely monitor what their users upload. The measure would hold all internet platforms liable for unfiltered content that infringes on existing copyrights. For example, should a user post a clip from a music video on Instagram, Facebook would have to pay. If it’s unauthorized, then it’s infringement.
Opponents have argued that the EU would force these platforms to block as much content as possible. They fear that Article 13 creates a surveillance framework. The EU – including member countries – could then decide what content to censor.
With today’s narrow 15-10 vote, Article 13 will likely face few changes. Representatives of 28 member countries will debate the controversial measure next month.
Analysts expect the EU to approve the committee’s ruling. Then, a final vote would take place later this year before finally becoming law.
Featured image by Håkan Dahlström (CC by 2.0)