With over 1 billion users, it might seem like YouTube is the best platform a musician could ever have. With a simple, no cost upload, an aspiring artist can share their work with the world.
And it’s a plan that sometimes works, as plenty of today’s stars got their start on YouTube. It’s where names like Justin Bieber, Katy Perry, Soulja Boy Macklemore, Gotye, and Lana Del Rey found their first real success.
But once an artists is established, YouTube can quickly become their worst enemy. In fact, YouTube has been called “the worst thing to happen to music since Napster,” the illegal file sharing site of late 90s fame.
What’s so bad about YouTube for an artist? In short, their music is racking up millions of page views, but they’re seeing pennies as a result. YouTube is infamous in the music industry for their lax copyright rules, where the uploading user holds the burden of deciding whether content is illegal or not.
Users can upload illegal content, including album tracks and live shows, and reap the ad revenue for themselves. In addition, when fans find videos for free on YouTube, that cuts down on them actually purchasing songs from services like iTunes.
YouTube however, has a very “hands off” approach to stolen content. The only time a video will be removed from YouTube for a copyright violation is when the actual content owner sends a take down request for that specific video.
When one user can easily uploads hundreds of videos from a single artist, it’s not hard to see how that could quickly be a problem. Even if videos do get taken down, that same user can upload those same videos again within days. Many of today’s top artists have entire teams of people who do nothing but patrol the Internet looking for illegal videos.
What all this means is that people are profiting off of an artist’s work, but it’s not the artist. One industry insider said that the amount of U.S. payments artist get from YouTube is less than the revenue from vinyl record sales. Sources say that YouTube pays a great deal less than services like Spotify and Apple Music for streaming content.
That’s why many artists are calling for change. Over the summer, over 180 of music’s biggest names, like Paul McCartney, Taylor Swift, Beck, and Kings of Leon, signed an open letter to Congress urging them to reform digital copyright law.
The current law is the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which was put in to place in 1998. It absolves services like YouTube from any punishment over hosting illegal content as long as they “act quickly” to remove it once notified.
YouTube though, still says they’re doing all they can. They argue that YouTube has actually paid paid billions of dollars to record companies, and say they have safeguards in place to protect copyrighted material like their $60 million “Content ID” program that “fingerprints” pirated material, catching more than 99% of it.
Sources say that’s still close to 50 million unauthorized plays per day though, and that’s too many.
Online copyright laws have come a long, long way since the 1990s (when it took actually going to court to get content removed from a web site), but it looks like they still have a long way to go.