YouTube 'stupid' to pick a fight with indie labels, says Billy Bragg

Musician compares Google-owned site to Big Brother after allegations of bullying tactics in row over music licensing

Musician Billy Bragg has compared YouTube to Big Brother and suggested that the Google-owned site has been "stupid" to pick a fight with independent labels over music licensing.

"Rather than a huge boot stamping on a human face forever, it’s a corporation that changes its logo every week," said Bragg, at a press conference in London convened by independent music association WIN.

Its member labels have been complaining that YouTube is trying to force them to sign contracts for its upcoming Spotify-style music subscription service, by threatening to block their music on YouTube if they do not sign.

"I don’t know why they’ve opened this hornet’s nest right now, apart from corporate hubris," said Bragg. "I don’t think they realise what a stupid thing they’ve done."

WIN is filing a complaint with the European commission over what its chief executive Alison Wenham described as "threats, intimidation and bullying" from YouTube when encouraging labels to sign the contracts for the as-yet unannounced service.

Her organisation has chosen to go public in an attempt to shame YouTube and its parent company back to the negotiating table with Merlin, the licensing agency that negotiates streaming rights for indie labels on a collective basis.

"When I was in conversation with YouTube two weeks ago when they realised we were going to speak out, I was told that [Google CEO] Larry Page was allergic to press," said Wenham.

"So I advised them to get some very very strong medicine, and give him my number. Because if he’s allergic to press, he’s going to get a very very serious dose of hives."

Independent labels hope the European commission will take action against YouTube if it does not change its negotiation strategy.

"We’re expecting the commission to be taking this very seriously, and we’re also going to be asking for emergency measures," said Helen Smith, executive chair of another indie music body, Impala, who spoke at the event.

"For the commission to say while they’re investigating this, for YouTube to not send out any more threats, carry out the threats or enforce the terms for labels that have signed the contracts ... I’m pretty confident that they will take a hard line on this."

For its part, YouTube has stressed its existing licensing deals with labels, but declined to give specific details of the negotiations for its upcoming subscription service.

"YouTube provides a global platform for artists to connect with fans and generate revenue for their music," a spokesperson told the Guardian last week.

"We have successful deals in place with hundreds of independent and major labels around the world, however we don't comment on ongoing negotiations."

YouTube music licensing strikes wrong notes with indie labels


Stuart Dredge

The GuardianTramp

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