Rock stars wade into YouTube war

11 Mar 2009

As it seems the YouTube war with the UK music industry is about to spread to MySpace, more than 150 artists from bands such as Radiohead and Blur are joining the fight for digital rights.

The artists, led by singer Billy Bragg and Blur drummer David Rowntree under the featured Artists’ Coalition (FAC), will converge on London today to push for a fairer deal for musicians.

They have a point. We live in a time when artists can forge direct links with their fans. It is also a time when music labels are seeing their once-lucrative revenue streams from CD sales falling and now desperately need to shore up revenue some how.

Writing in The Guardian newspaper yesterday, Bragg pointed out: “The potential, particularly for new talent, is incredible. Unfortunately, for us artists, not everyone in the music industry shares this view.

“The major labels seem to see the internet as a threat, not just in their self-defeating attempts to criminalise our fans for sharing our music with others, but also in their determination to cling to the old way of doing things.

“Under the old business model, they took the lion’s share of the profits for doing the heavy-lifting of physical production and distribution of stock. Shamefully, some labels are still offering deals to new artists based on this notion. We live in a digital age, but we’re stuck in an analogue music industry,” Bragg fumed.

On Monday, matters came to a head when Google’s YouTube dropped premium videos from artists represented by the Performing Rights Society (PRS), which collects artist royalties.

The PRS argued that YouTube needs to provide higher percentages from the advertising it collects every time a viewer watches a premium artist’s video.

However, YouTube has argued that the rates the PRS wants to collect for its artists are uneconomical.

There is a consensus amongst video sites that the rates the PRS has been charging are so high that it is not sustainable to provide free-to-view, ad-based services. The return on advertising is not enough to cover royalty payments on each video when running costs like bandwidth are included.

Other sites such as MySpace are struggling to renegotiate royalty fees with the PRS, while on 15 January streaming service Pandora was forced to cut its UK service after it failed to renegotiate its licence with the PRS.

By John Kennedy

Pictured: Radiohead, whose drummer David Rowntree is joining in the fight for digital rights