Copyrights, The Record Industry and YouTube

Today’s bug squashing day here at DFE, so I’m not updating the site much. But then, I haven’t been updating the site too much, anyway.

But I saw this video, sent by friend of the site JF, which got me to thinking:

The message is fine and certainly amusing. But it’s not that which got me thinking, it was the music. This video will probably not outlast the week, since YouTube uses software that listens to the audio output of a video to discover potential violations of copyright, which this video technically does. The author is probably not making any money off the video, but YouTube is, so the use of Amy Winehouse’s material without paying her – and the record company – is illegal.

But there is no vehicle for us small time bloggers to even pay a record company for the rights in the first place. That means that a law which is entirely reasonable on it’s face is preventing the kind of free flow of information that the web is meant to produce. At least in this particular facet of creativity. And at the same time, an entirely new type of revenue stream is being blocked from the record companies. But I don’t think it needs to be this way.

Now, if a local radio station wants to play Winehouse’s music, they pay what is known in the industry as a performance royalty. Basically, for every play of copyrighted music on a commercial radio station, television station or any other commercial enterprise, the performer and the company make a few pennies. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but for an international star, a few pennies per day per radio station adds up quickly. In fact, for reasons I won’t get into, performance royalties tend to be the only money most rock stars ever actually make.

So why not put the YouTube commercial service to good use? You’ve seen the advertisements that come up on the bottom third of the screen when watching a YouTube video? What is preventing YouTube from selling those blocks off as performance royalties? If I want to use Saved By Zero in a YouTube video, I look it up in a database and apply to use it. YouTube looks up my average video views and determines whether a sufficient number of commercial plays will happen in a sufficient amount of time. If so, I’m cleared to use it.

Of course, more than one ad could be used in a given video, depending on length. There’s lots of other factors, but there’s lots of smart folks at YouTube and Google who could figure it out if they wanted to.

And of course, the record companies have to consent, which is unlikely. I’m not expecting my plan to be put into action in any event. I’m simply pointing out that there is an entirely reasonable business model for making content-rich, copyright-safe videos possible on the Internet if only the record companies could get their heads out of their asses and start living in the 21st century.