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No more Radiohead: YouTube to ban indie labels, charge for music service

Published time: June 17, 2014 20:25
Edited time: June 19, 2014 15:04
Reuters / Lucy Nicholson

Reuters / Lucy Nicholson

Thousands of music videos are expected to soon disappear off of YouTube because the independent record labels behind those artists are not involved in new deals being cut by the Google-owned streaming site.

YouTube will announce in "a matter of days" that videos on the site featuring recording artists from some independent labels will be blocked, the FT reports. The ban is aimed at forcing the "refusenik" labels into signing licensing agreements with a new service, coming soon from Google.

When the forthcoming service, YouTube Music Pass, is finally launched later this summer, subscribers are expected to be able to not just stream videos from one of the world’s most popular sites, but back up that content to enjoy later, even when an internet connection isn’t available. This feature is currently offered by competing, pay-to-list music services such as Spotify and Rhapsody, but not YouTube. To get as much, however, customers will have to fork over a small fee, and so far independent labels have refused to agree to the licensing agreements involved.

Robert Kyncl, YouTube’s head of content and business operations, told the FT that three major record label conglomerates — Universal, Sony and Warner — have all signed up so far. Around 10 percent of the industry is absent from the deal, though, including some top-selling artists who are signed to smaller labels.

XL Recordings, which boasts a roster of groups such as Sigur Ros and Radiohead, has not signed up, meaning those acts will likely have their videos taken off the site, the FT reported. Also not signed up to YouTube is Domino Records, which hosts Arctic Monkeys, among others.

While we wish that we had a 100 percent success rate, we understand that is not likely an achievable goal and therefore it is our responsibility to our users and the industry to launch the enhanced music experience,” Kyncl told FT.

Independent artists, however, have a problem with what Google has in mind. “YouTube are shooting themselves in the foot with their attempt to strong-arm independent labels into signing up to such low rates,” singer-songwriter Billy Bragg said earlier this month. “They’re in danger of launching a streaming service that lacks the innovative and cutting-edge sounds that independent artists bring.”

"Digital aggregation creates power, and now these companies — after years of talking about a big, open Internet future — are finally starting to show when it comes to be tough in negotiations," Forrester Research analyst James McQuivey told NPR recently. "They're willing to use their access point as a source of power."

But according to Google, their forthcoming service is only intended to help bands. “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,” a Google spokesman in a statement this week. “We are excited that hundreds of major and independent labels are already partnering with us.”

Currently, YouTube attracts more than 1 billion viewers each month from around the globe. According to Kyncl, videos will begin being blocked “in a matter of days.”

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