YouTube faces paying billions to music stars after copyright vote

YouTube stars from Taylor Swift to Ed Sheeran, Beyonce and Jay-Z could be in line for big paydays after the video giant lost a crucial vote in Brussels over new copyright laws that will force it to pay billions of dollars in fees for users watching music videos.

For years the music industry has argued that YouTube exploits the lack of legal protection around music videos being viewed on its service to pay minimal amounts to artists and labels when they are viewed. The music industry has lobbied that this “value gap” between the true worth of the music videos and what YouTube decides to pay needs to be addressed with legislation.

On 20th june wednesday, a crucial vote by the European parliament’s legal affairs committee went the way of the music industry with an agreement to adopt copyright laws that will force platforms such as YouTube to seek licences for music videos.

While the legal affairs committee vote marks a landmark moment – it is the lead committee on the legislation that has been the subject of vociferous lobbying by tech companies and the music industry for 18 months – it will face a further challenge before becoming law. The committee voted 15 to 10 to adopt the controversial article 13.

“The record industry has thoroughly negotiated deals with Spotify and Apple and so on but the problem with YouTube is that kind of discussion has not been possible,” says Mills. “For me, it is less about how much more the superstars will make than the power it will give working musicians, day-to-day artists, to strike deals to enable them to survive and be the artisan they want to be” said Martin Mills, founder of Beggars Group.

Taylor Swift has led the fight for artists to get a better share of revenues in the age of the digital music giants.

In 2014, she pulled her music from Spotify, saying artists receive a tiny royalty per song playand has been the catalyst for the much better deals struck by record labels with Spotify in the past 18 months.

YouTube makes money from advertising and last year paid $856m (£650m) in royalties to music companies – an estimated 67 cents from each of its 1.3 billion music lovers annually.

In the UK, record labels and artists earn more than double the royalties from the sale of 4.1m vinyl records than they did from the 25bn music videos watched on YouTube last year.

Musician Billy Bragg says the battle against YouTube is less about the potential financial windfall that artists might get, and more about making sure the new digital music power players play fair.

YouTube has made moves to mollify the industry launching a premium subscription service – two days before the crucial European vote – a move Jean-Michel Jarre, electro-pioneer and president of music body Cisac, has cynically called “indirect lobbying” to try to improve its image.

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