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YouTube does yet more article thirteen dissing

By | Published on Friday 2 November 2018


YouTube continues to pile on the pressure over article thirteen of the European Copyright Directive as the final phase of negotiations regarding the copyright reforms continues in Brussels. This time the Google firm’s top music man, ex-label exec Lyor Cohen, has intervened, telling labels to think about all the fun-time covers and parodies that could be lost if new European copyright laws increase the liabilities of user-upload platforms like his.

Article thirteen, of course, seeks to reform the copyright safe harbour to address the big bad ‘value gap’ that the music industry has been banging on about so much in recent years. The music community reckons that sites like YouTube have abused a safe harbour intended for internet service providers and server hosting companies in order to launch streaming services without paying going rate royalties. It is hoped that article thirteen will force those sites to negotiate licensing deals more in line with the ones done by Spotify et al.

However, YouTube and its tech sector best buds argue that article thirteen, as currently drafted, will increase their liabilities too much and impact on what kind of content can be shared on their platforms, and what kind of creators can get involved in that sharing.

Despite some proactive and at times controversial lobbying in Brussels and Strasbourg (and, arguably, because of it), the European Parliament nevertheless voted through the music industry’s preferred wording of article thirteen in September. The Parliament is now negotiating with the European Commission and the EU Council on the final drafting of the whole directive, including the safe harbour reforms.

Which is why YouTube, having lost the most recent battle in Parliament, is still speaking out about article thirteen whenever an opportunity arises. YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki recently had a good old moan about it all in the middle of a blog post updating her creators on the latest stats and technical developments on the Google video site.

Cohen snuck his article thirteen griping into a blog post about building and engaging a fanbase on YouTube, which took the form of an interview with John Shahidi from the company Shots Studios, which manages and works with various acts who have successfully built a business around their YouTube content. Shots Studios is the firm that recently allied with Universal Music with one of their YouTuber clients, Lele Pons.

Cohen noted how most of the people Shots work with encourage fans to get involved on YouTube by creating and uploading covers, parodies and collaborations. And it’s true that activity of that kind is important if you are actually looking to use YouTube to grow your fanbase, rather than just as a repository for your tunes.

But guess what that reminded Cohen of? “This reminded me why it is so important that the industry understands article thirteen”, he mused in his blog post, “which is part of the new EU copyright directive currently being finalised. Because all of this great content, this unique way to build deep connections with fans, is at risk of being blocked and removed from open platforms (such as YouTube, Facebook, Reddit)”.

Possibly then remembering that one of the reasons he was hired by YouTube was to build bridges with his old mates in the traditional music industry, Cohen quickly added, “Let me be clear: we understand and support the intent of article thirteen. We need effective ways for copyright holders to protect their content”.

But there’s always a but. “But we believe”, he went on, “that the current proposal will create severe unintended consequences for the whole industry. We still have a couple of weeks to work together towards a better final version of the law. The music industry should really pay attention to these unintended consequences – the system that largely contributes to their success is at risk of major change in the European Union”.

Cohen then shared various words of wisdom from Shahidi on YouTube-style fan engagement, but remembered to bring the conversation back to article thirteen two more times. “I’d like to wrap up”, he ultimately concluded, “and stress again that the success of the music industry and the creative environment that has benefited so many artists are threatened by article thirteen, as written. I encourage everyone making a living in this industry to learn more about it and join us to propose a better version together”.

Lovely stuff. I wonder what else YouTube execs could sneak some article thirteen moaning into. A blog post on the most successful YouTubers of all time and how article thirteen would have killed their careers? Ten top tips on how to make compelling videos and why you shouldn’t bother because the bloody European Union is going to stop you? A philosophical piece for Thanksgiving, maybe, on how we should all be thankful that we’ve got this far without tackling the value gap? And then a Christmas message noting how much Jesus loved a safe harbour and would never have endorsed anything numbered thirteen?

We look forward to them all.