Why Should Youtube pay Musicians for Showing their Commercials?

There have been quite a number of complaints over the last few weeks that Youtube isn’t paying artists enough for showing their content. The argument from the music industry is that Youtube owes much of its success to the music industry. This seems like a far-fetched idea at best, but it is something that Google/Youtube have tacitly admitted in agreeing to pay ANYTHING for allowing music videos to be put on Youtube.

What’s the purpose of a music video? Is it to be an artistic expression in-and-of itself? I can’t honestly think that it is. No, a music video (much like a radio spot) is an advertisement – for the band, the song, and the album. It is quite frankly absurd to me that artists believe that they should be paid – beyond the amount they already get through the ads they place on their own pages – because Google is providing them a platform to transmit their commercials to millions of people around the world - FREE.

So when the Performance Rights Society (PRS – UK’s RIAA) could not reach an agreement, Youtube pulled all the music videos down in the UK, signaling that, in fact, it doesn’t need them nearly as much as they need Youtube. The best part? Numerous artists, even ones who had been complaining about how Google was “stealing their money” and “not paying for music” suddenly found that their own, personal websites didn’t work. The videos on their own sites had been embedded versions of Youtube videos. That’s right, in addition to providing free advertising and free distribution, they were also shouldering the largest, most expensive part of a band’s website – the streaming media content - FREE. The cost to artists to host and stream their own videos, thousands or millions of times, would be far higher than anything they could hope to re-coupe from licensing fees.

It appears that the PRS is doing everything it can to actively torpedo its artists’ futures online. Their actions have already driven Myspace Music and Pandora to simply cut off UK service. Does it appear to be hurting either of them? Not in the slightest. You know who it is hurting though? I made a list:

I hope this is helpful to the people at the PRS, and that they carefully consider who they are ultimately trying to serve. Clearly, artists and fans are both hurt by their actions, and value is generated for no one. It is yet another example of an outdated, monolithic group trying desperately to stay relevant.

So here’s my proposal: If artists want Google to pay them for every view, they can pay Google for every single embedded version of the video. Every time someone embeds it anywhere and Google isn’t getting any advertising revenue, the band can go ahead and get billed for that bandwidth. Then, at the end of the month, they can get together and see which bill is bigger – bandwidth or licensing.

Here’s a Radiohead (one of the bands that complained) video. Just for you to enjoy on Radiohead’s theoretical dime.

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