Steve's Blog: Solo Bass & Beyond

Youtube Vs. The PRS: A very 2.0 Solution

March 20th, 2009 | No Comments | Categories: Geek · New Music Strategies · tips for musicians |

Screengrab of Coldplay's official youtube channel, tell us we can't see their videos in the UKScreengrab of Coldplay's official youtube channel, tell us we can't see their videos in the UKOne of the biggest “music on the web” stories in recent months has been the breakdown in relationship between the UK Performing Right Society (PRS) and Youtube (owned by Google). It’s over the share of Google’s ad revenue that should go to the writers of the songs in ‘premium content’ videos on Youtube. (for some background, here’s An article from The Guardian, and the PRS’s latest statement).

So, who’s in the wrong? Not surprisingly, both are, at least partly.

Youtube don’t want to share ad revenue in any volume with anyone, if they can help it. The existence of ‘premium content’ channels says that they aren’t willing to even think about ways of paying out on EVERYTHING that’s currently in copyright. Their argument would probably be that

  • most of the stuff on there is ‘non-copyright’ (though I think the copyright status of home movies could probably be contested)
  • it’d be impossible to police.

The PRS, on the other hand, like the bastions of old media thinking that they are, are pushing for ever higher royalty rates for online usage. With, it seems, precious little room for individual negotiation (believing that they either do all the negotiating or non of it), but also apparently not much of an understanding of how the web changes the game completely for musicians.

(The liberal use of terms like ‘apparently’ and ‘probably’ here is because Google slapped an NDA on the first round of talks with the PRS, so no-one knows the terms of the initial agreement anyway!)

So that’s the background. What’s wrong with this picture?

Firstly, there’s the assumption that having the videos not available is somehow better than having them available for ‘free’… Videos are promotional. they are a loss-leader. Precious few music videos ever recoup the money in their own terms. They’re as much a part of a brand campaign as the adverts are. So why the assumption that they should be making money as though they were on the radio?

Bottom line for musicians is, we’d rather have people watching us than not. Yes, it’s great to get paid. But Youtube, at the moment, is a marketing platform for most of us. I put videos up there because I want the exposure, I want more content out there and (crucially) I don’t want to pay for bandwidth. There are lots of great video hosting sites (like Vimeo), but Youtube currently also has MASSIVE traffic in its favour – if I tag things well, and manage to get them listed alongside videos by other people of similar interest, it can work as part of a marketing campaign, to reach people who’ve not heard me before. That’s good.

Having said that, if google are making ad revenue off MY traffic, there should be a split. Fair’s fair.

Why the Premium Channels Don’t Work.

the problem with the premium content channel model is that it’s yet another crappy internet walled garden that requires you to:

  • upload your own content
  • meet Google’s standards for the nature of that content.

Which is:

  • balls

I watch very little ‘premium content’ on youtube. I do however watch a lot of ‘official videos, unofficially uploaded’. They are completely outside the terms of this current load of negotiation. Why? because they aren’t indexed in any way that can be measured for ad sharing. They’re uploaded by “Tony32xLiplll” and “ShazzaFunk45” and their compatriots, who taped them off the TV, or downloaded them off bit-torrent.

The PRS have completely missed the point by focussing on the ‘official’ end of Youtube. It’s a tiny amount of the traffic, and yet again separates musicians into the ‘haves and have-nots’.

So what’s the answer?

Well, one option would be User-inputted, wiki-style publishing information for ALL videos on Youtube.

How would that work?

Well, next to the video, when you upload it, is a drop-down list to select the kind of video it is, tick whether it contains music (or film clips), and write in who wrote the song and the publisher. The boxes would autocomplete to a degree, to try and standardise the publishing data, and the PRS (and other global music collection agencies) would provide the database for the provision of the auto-complete side. Once the data was in, it would serve as search tags as well, and could be edited, wiki-style, by people who need to correct it. No money is paid out immediately – to prevent people trying to game it by putting in their details for every video – and when a song is listed, people can then do the ‘thumbs up/thumbs down’ button click to confirm what the song is (sidenote – already have this, so you could even link their data in here, if they were open to sharing the videos that have been ‘confirmed’ as being of a particular song).

What good would this do?

well, firstly, it would provide a way for people to upload copyright material to youtube, but for the originators and writers to get paid. It would also provide an incentive to musicians to do cover versions, knowing that the original artists were now LEGALLY going to get paid for the work (at the moment there is no legal way of uploading a cover version to youtube. At all! Everyone does it, because any artist or publisher with 5 brain cells knows that it’s great publicity for the original, but I’d LOVE for the people whose tunes I’ve covered on youtube to get their share of the ad revenue for them being there. I don’t need it, as I’m getting the promotional benefit of it being there.) So it would encourage community moderation (God-knows something has to try and bring some kind of community behaviour to youtube – youtube comments are for the most part the collective writings of the world’s genetic detritus.) it would result in lots of songwriters collecting loads of micropayments for their songs, it’s sustainable and it provides a way for cover versions to get out there without breaching copyright law or having to go through prohibitive release mechanisms for them to exist. Win-win.

What could go wrong?

Well, it would require some mechanism/moderation for videos that are just someone else’s song turned into an advert for a product (or rebranded to a company) – something which happens now, but with little success in the moderation department – someone couldn’t just take my song, put in my details, and add a McDonalds advert to it – there would need to be some way of the artist’s OKing commercial usage in that way.

But remember, that’s already happening. A lot. Illegally. On Youtube.

Youtube, as it stands, benefits no-one – the cost of running it is only just about offset by the money that Google are currently making in ad revenue (or so they say) – it’s a massive sprawling branding exercise for Google, but it’s basically the public face of the Torrent world. millions upon millions of videos and songs and TV shows and comedy DVDs ripped and uploaded.

The “wiki-fied publishing data” idea would not only provide the mechanism for payment, it would create a window into that kind of self-moderation that Youtube is currently severely lacking. have all kinds of moderation and flagging tools in place. Wikipedia is obviously self-governing. A mash-up of the two, with some clever web design and a database of songs, songwriters and publishing details could result in many more people making money on a lot more videos.

What do you think?

Similar Posts elsewhere in this blog:


Tags: · , , , , , , , ,

No Comments so far ↓

  • richardh

    It certainly seems a sensible way forward – which unfortunately probably means it’ll never happen. The leap of thinking required is probably too great (more from the PRS side I would imagine), and unfortunately it needs it to be a YouTube sized setup with that muscle behind it to make the move for it to be viable – it’s doubtful a new start up website is going to make inroads. It’s YouTube the PRS will want to get something hammered out with anyway.

  • Caroline Bottomley

    Think it sounds perfect. I’m always aware that we’re not entering any kind of metadata when we upload artist’ videos on our channels = difficult/impossible for artists to rev share unless we build an infrastructure to do it ourselves.

    We’ve built @2.75 million views for artists on channels where we promote, mostly for unsigned acts. It wouldn’t generate squillions for artists, but it could generate some. However, we opt out of ‘opportunities’ to rev share whenever we can. There’s no easy framework to extract data and we can’t afford to take on the administrative burden of redistributing any revenues to artists whose videos we promote.

    Your solution puts PRS in just the right place – they can look after rev share distribution to artists. We’ll take anything client-side that’s left, if there is anything left. Meanwhile I’m very glad we didn’t elect to become a partner channel with YouTube because our videos are still up!

    To add to your notes about overlaying your song on a MacDonalds ad. YouTube have a relatively new feature called audioswap. If you’ve uploaded a video, you can choose a soundtrack from their audioswap library and elect to do a one time soundtrack swap. It’s quite a nice idea, but still very walled garden. They could open this up for any audio with a creative commons license, with a proviso that artists have the right to withdraw consent unless agreement has been made up front. Legitimate brands would play safe and get pre-agreements – and maybe pay synchs. Home tapers (or fans) just playing around would run the risk of having the video taken down. Artists would patrol use – not difficult to do if the metadata exists as you propose.

    Great idea. What do we do to make it happen?

    @radarmusicvideo on Twitter

  • Dubber


    1) A percentage of advertising revenue set aside for paying composers for public performance;

    2) Accurate and verifiable publishing data;

    3) Transparent accounting.

    A simple technical solution to a problem for all stakeholders. And it would give smaller, independent artists a compelling reason to sign up to their Performing Rights Society; make immediately legitimate a lot of activity that major rightsholders currently find troubling; and resolve the stupid, old-thinking and artificial division between ‘proper’ content and ‘amateur’ content.

    The central problem for PRS has always been the quality and quantity of the available data and the means of processing it. There has never been a compelling reason for them to increase their membership, because smaller artists require granular data and micro-transactions, and their systems just do not support that.

    With a simple (and frankly ingenious) method of dataset verification like this in place and automated, PRS could actually work towards monthly or even weekly artist payments. But that system for collecting and processing data would quickly need to be integrated across all platforms.

    But it’s been both possible and urgent for a number of years now – and they need to get it sorted.

    Complete radio station playlists, rather than quarterly samples. Shazam-style audio fingerprinting and data collection of music in bars and clubs. A frictionless method of capturing and reporting DJ setlists at clubs.

    This last bit is something that Jez Collins and I are starting to work on – at least on paper – at the Interactive Cultures research unit at Birmingham City University. It’d be good to have your thinking in the mix on that.

  • David

    Hi Steve

    wouldn’t that feature be in need of some education to some trolls that upload on youtube. How many of them would give themselves to the trouble of putting artist information in there. How many of them would put their own name in hope they would some sort of cash.

    I do agree with when it comes to covers. On my space everytime I update a cover by my band I always put the name of the song and the artist, just in case someone listens to it and if they don’t know the origianl they have the means to search it. (very unlikely I know)

    As you said very few pounds are made out of people buying videos, so I don’t see why would Google would have to pay for the uploads, at the end of the day if youtube becomes payable someone will find another way of uploading videos and music, like the IMEEM that’s growing is user numers by the day.

    There’s an advantage to musicians about youtube, you can get alot of exposure you tag well like you said Steve, on the other hand tab badly and you will have no chance….

  • Simon Mason

    Very interesting post Steve. A couple of thoughts from a music fan rather than a musician:

    The wiki idea is great but assumes a depth of knowledge that the casual user of youtube either doesn’t posses or can’t be bothered to find out. Could life be made easier by running all music uploads through a Shazam type service – I have no idea if this is technically possible but if it is it might allocate say 80% of uploads to the right artist. I realise this would fall down with cover versions but presumably most cover versions are uploaded by musicians who would be happy to fill in your wiki.

    Secondly is payment the primary concern at least of “un-known” (horrible term but you know what I mean) artists where we are probably talking chump change anyway. Is it more important that your music at leat gets attributed to you? I’m also thinking here about your point that YouTube barely breaks even so where is the money going to come from to pay artists anyway.

    Thirdly would a little bit of education go a long way? Maybe a short, humourus and impactful video about why it really isn’t cool to rip peoples music off – your point about it being your’s to sell or share not mine to take. I don’t know how this would be got in front of the audience but I suspect many people just don’t think of what they are doing as theft.

    Whatever happens I hope that the PRS and google sort this mess out soon as a lot of people both artists and fans are missing out at the moment which seems to be a worst of all worlds solution.

  • Ian Shepherd

    Great post, and a seriously clever idea, I think.

    Maybe this suggestion could be promoted via the Featured Artist’s Coalition ?

    I share Andrew Dubber’s reservations about the FAC, but it’s an organisation that exists, has engaged with the issue, and has momentum and publicity.

    And, we have connections – some of the people involved with it are on Twitter, for example.

    Is anyone on chatting terms with @imogenheap or @billybragg ?!

  • paddy

    steve we need to come up with a good techy/geeky superhero name/costume for you 😀

  • Brian Roessler

    Steve, I think this is a really good idea, and I think the wiki aspect of it gets around the problem brought up in a couple of the other comments. Even is the uploader doesn’t know, or can’t be bothered to enter, the appropriate meta info for a video/song, ideally the wiki format creates a situation where someone else will. Of course, how will that someone else stumble on the video if it hasn’t been appropriately tagged? I dunno. But I think your idea goes a long way toward a solution to this issue. Thanks for such a thoughtful post.


  • steve


    having spoken to a few people who have premium accounts, it appears that they can ALREADY claim videos uploaded by other people, and monetize them, if they own the copyright. Apparently, they can even do this if they only own part of the copyright.

    Which just goes to show that it’s already possible to do it, it just desperately needs to be broadened out to allow people without premium accounts to do it, and also for the community to manage it…

    At the moment, it’s a clandestine exchange – the site outlining the terms of the premium accounts isn’t even publicly readable. There’s no decent reason for the whole process not to be moved into the open and turned into a community thing.

    Or is there? 🙂

  • James Stewart

    On: “most of the stuff on there is ‘non-copyright’ (though I think the copyright status of home movies could probably be contested)”

    The thing with ‘home movies’ is that generally they’ve been uploaded with their creators, so the copyright status is clear and the creator has freely (though potentially without being fully informed of their options) given their permission to youtube to profit from them.

  • James Stewart

    And of course when I said “they’ve been uploaded with their creators” I meant uploaded _by_ their creators