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Indie labels draw battle lines in fight against YouTube, BPI adds support

By | Published on Thursday 5 June 2014


“We will not put down this fight. We will continue to campaign for the right thing to be done”, was the conclusion of Alison Wenham of the Association Of Independent Music and Worldwide Independent Network, at a press conference in London yesterday called to discuss YouTube’s threats to independent labels.

Wenham was joined by Helen Smith of pan-European indie labels trade group IMPALA, Billy Bragg speaking for the Featured Artists Coalition, Mark Chung of AIM’s German counterpart VUT, and journalist and songwriter Helienne Lindvall, to outline plans to take their battle with YouTube to the European Commission.

As previously reported, last month indie label trade bodies the world over issued statements criticising the way the Google-owned video platform is negotiating with the record companies in a bid to launch its much mooted and rather delayed audio streaming service, a Spotify competitor that will sit alongside YouTube’s vast music video catalogue.

Explaining the situation as it stands, Wenham said that Google has told independent labels that if they don’t accept the proposed licensing terms for the new YouTube streaming service, all of their content – ie all the video-based artist channels they operate – would be removed from the platform. Earlier this week, she added, she wrote to the UK’s Secretary Of State For Business Vince Cable, calling on him to act on this matter too – you can read the letter in full here – ahead of IMPALA’s submission to the EC.

“It’s our duty to act and it’s our duty to out a company whose principles of ‘freedom on the internet’ don’t seem to extend to their own commercial interests”, she said. “They are preferring instead, it seems, to exercise a punitive form of punishment and censorship until companies give in to terms which are both out of step with the streaming market and which will severely devalue independent music”.

YouTube’s dominance in the online video market means that it is a service that the labels “can all ill-afford to be removed from”, added Chung. He continued: “If the EC does not succeed in rectifying this problem, then clearly competition law in the online market is not functioning”.

Smith said that she was confident that the EC would act in favour of the independent labels. Pointing to previous investigations of music company mergers, in which IMPALA participated, and particularly the stern divestments ordered by the EC on Universal’s purchase of the EMI record labels, Smith said that the EC’s Competition Commission is already very aware of the importance of independent labels – both economically and culturally – and of the digital music market as a whole.

“We’re expecting the Commission to take this very seriously”, she said. In addition to raising the issues around a large corporation using its position to threaten smaller companies, Smith added that the indie labels’ complaint to the EC will call for emergency measures, forcing YouTube to withdraw its threats and to not enforce any agreements that have already been signed until any EC investigation is over.

“That’s a pretty rare step for the Commission to take”, she admitted. “But we think in this case it’s merited in the public interest”.

Speaking on why this was so important for the UK music industry, Billy Bragg said: “[Since the sale of EMI], in the UK, the independents are all we’ve got as a record industry. That’s who we are now, so it’s absolutely crucial that we support them in their attempts to get a good business model from multi-national corporations such as YouTube and Google”.

And echoing Wenham’s assertion that WIN will not back down in this fight, he added: “I don’t think [Google] realise what a stupid thing they’ve done”.

After yesterday’s press briefing, and as the story gained momentum online, UK record industry trade body the BPI, which represents both indies and the major labels, this morning gave its backing to the WIN campaign.

The trade group’s Chief Exec Geoff Taylor said in a statement: “YouTube is the dominant platform for music video and an essential partner for all UK labels and artists. We believe it is vitally important that all independent labels should have access to the YouTube platform and should not be unfairly disadvantaged in doing so”.

He added: “A healthy independent sector is crucial to the success of British music overall. We will strongly support the campaign for fair access for independents and we call on YouTube to demonstrate that it respects and values independent music”.

Earlier this week a YouTube spokesperson told CMU: “We have successful deals in place with hundreds of independent and major labels around the world, however we don’t comment on ongoing negotiations”.