Worries over YouTube block of indie artists may be overstated (Updated)

There are big changes ahead for YouTube and many people aren’t too happy about it. But widely reported fears that popular indie artists like the Arctic Monkeys, Adele, and Jack White will soon disappear from YouTube may be unfounded according to representatives from video-streaming service Vevo and YouTube itself.

Updated on 06-19-2014 by Malarie Gokey: Updated to reflect new reports that indicate which videos YouTube will block.

YouTube told Digital Trends that labels representing 95 percent of the music industry have already signed the deal, adding in an email that it is in constant contact with the remaining indie labels in hopes of making a deal.

The issue was sparked by an interview with the Financial Times, where Robert Kyncl, YouTube’s head of content and business operations, confirmed that the video-streaming service will start testing a paid music subscription service within the walls of Google. The new service will offer ad-free content and offline downloads for a select price every month.

YouTube’s new service reportedly requires record labels to sign licensing deals — to pay to play, in other words. While major recording labels like SonyMusic Entertainment, Warner Music, and Universal Group Music may not mind signing a contract, especially if the price is right, some indie labels are not happy. A few indie labels have refused to sign the agreement and according to the Financial Times, if the labels don’t sign, the artists won’t be included in the service — and videos of their songs will be blocked on YouTube. 

YouTube stressed that the amount of content that will be affected by the situation will be very small.

YouTube told Digital Trends that the vast majority of music video content from indie labels will still be available on YouTube because most have signed already. The company added that the affected artists’ videos will vary from country to country, based on which label they signed with in that particular country. YouTube stressed that the amount of content that will be affected by the situation will be very small.

“Our goal is to continue making YouTube an amazing music experience, both as a global platform for fans and artists to connect, and as a revenue source for the music industry,” YouTube said in an emailed statement. “We’re adding subscription-based features for music on YouTube with this in mind — to bring our music partners new revenue streams in addition to the hundreds of millions of dollars YouTube already generates for them each year. We are excited that hundreds of major and independent labels are already partnering with us.”

Additionally, Vevo told TechCrunch that since it has separate deals with YouTube and several indie labels, its videos of indie artists won’t be blocked. So in reality, everyone’s favorite indie artists aren’t going anywhere.

A new report from Forbes indicates that only official videos from the recording label or the artists themselves will be blocked on both the free and paid services. YouTube also said that it won’t block user-uploaded videos of copyrighted music from the indie artists whose labels haven’t signed the deal.

With user-uploaded videos and artists’ Vevo channels still available, it seems that very little content will actually be blocked. However, YouTube did say that none of the videos uploaded with songs from the unsigned labels’ artists will be monetized. As such, indie artists stand to lose much-needed revenue from clicks on YouTube videos, even though users won’t miss out on much content.

The Worldwide Independent Network (WIN), which represents indie labels and their artists, is very upset about what it sees as scare tactics from YouTube. WIN protested YouTube’s plans angrily earlier in May and has since filed a complaint with the European Commission. WIN says that YouTube’s demands are unreasonable and unfair to indie labels. 

WIN’s chief executive Alison Wenham told the Guardian that YouTube offered indie labels inferior terms and declared that YouTube has made “a simple but catastrophic error of judgement in misreading the market.”

In an updated press release sent to Digital Trends regarding the dispute between the labels WIN represents and YouTube, Wenham disputed YouTube’s claim that most of the indie labels have signed and that the dialogue is open.

“We appreciate that a small number of independent labels may have their own reasons for agreeing to YouTube’s terms, that is their prerogative, but they are very much in the minority,” Wenham said in the statement. “The vast majority of independent labels around the world are disappointed at the lack of respect and understanding shown by YouTube. We once again urge YouTube to come and talk to us.”

WIN also restated its claim that YouTube’s terms are unfair and its threats unethical.

“YouTube continues to issue content blocking threats to WIN’s independent label members who refuse to sign what many labels are calling highly unfavorable, and non-negotiable terms, which undervalue existing rates in the marketplace from partners such as Spotify and Deezer,” the statement read.

On the other side of the coin stand those who turn to YouTube for free music and content. It’s unclear how YouTube fans will react to the news that a paid service is on the way, especially if it means losing access to some of their favorite indie artists. The offline downloads will undoubtedly be a nice benefit for those who enjoy watching videos during their commutes or on vacation, but as with any subscription service, customer response will hinge on the affordability and quality of the service.

Article originally published on 06-16-2014

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