At first glance, the deal announced Monday between Warner Music Group and YouTube is a step in the right direction. It’s definitely better than UMG’s threats to take copyright violators to court, but just barely so.
The terms of the agreement provide YouTube with ad revenue, and give WMG a way to screen music used in uploaded videos. They can either allow it, order the content removed, or submit a bill to the auteur demanding a royalty payment. This is a good thing, says Warner head and liquor family scion Edgar Bronfman:
As user-generated content becomes more prevalent, this kind of partnership will allow music fans to celebrate the music of their favorite artists, enable artists to reach consumers in new ways, and ensure that copyright holders and artists are fairly compensated.
In other words, Bronfman wants money from the millions of kids who lip synch to 50 Cent on their webcams and upload the awkward results to YouTube for a handful of friends to view. Yeah, right.
Here’s what will happen – a replacement for YouTube will spring up immediately, probably in the form of a BitTorrent pirate site without borders or servers, and millions of adolescent vanity projects will migrate there. YouTube will rapidly become an industry whorehouse, its cool factor wiped away.
Maybe I’m wrong, and the company will cast a blind eye to the majority of uploads containing copyrighted material. Maybe they’ll realize the free promotional value these fan tributes represent. But I doubt it. As they sink into irrelevancy, replaced by artist direct models, viral marketing that doesn’t depend on corporate benovelence, and peer-to-peer promotion, Bronfman and his ilk will shamelessly grab at every dollar like it might be their last. Because one day it will.