Transparency for Thee But Not for Me: Google Tries to Censor India’s Link Rigging Investigation of Google

September 4, 2015 Leave a comment

There you go again–in another fine example of the non-disclosure agreement culture at Google, the Economic Times of India reports that Google is trying to force India to keep India’s own link rigging investigation of Google a secret.

That’s right–as ex-White House staffer Susan Crawford might say, Google is trying to “geek around the nation state.”  Or in SOPA-speak, The Google is censoring India’s investigation of The Google to keep users in the dark.

After a report filed by the Competition Commission of India (CCI) last week accused Google of abusing its dominant position to rig search outcomes, the company has requested the competition watch dog to maintain confidentiality of the probe. A company spokesperson confirmed to ET that it has written a letter to CCI earlier this week. ET had reported on Monday that Flipkart, Facebook, Nokia’s maps division, MakeMyTrip were among 30 companies have corroborated complaints that US internet giant Google abused its dominant market position, for influencing both the actual search result as well as sponsored links.

The search giant has requested CCI to maintain “confidentiality” of the probe and ensure that the findings are not leaked to third parties including media.

How about especially media.  Maybe someone needs to remind The Google that India not in the United States.  It’s a fact, you should be able to look it up on Google Maps.  Quick, before they change it.

While Google may be able to tell the Federal Trade Commission what it is and is not allowed to investigate, that approach clearly is not flying in Europe, India or probably anywhere else.

Censorship of the law is no excuse for link rigging. If Americans have to go to Europe and India for justice, so be it.

Guest Post: A response to Michael Geist’s Defense of Bootleg Beatles Records by Canadian Music Publishers Association’s Executive Director, Robert Hutton

September 3, 2015 Leave a comment

[This post by Canadian Music Publishers Association Executive Director Robert Hutton is reprinted with permission from the CMPA’s Sept. 3, 2015 newsletter.]

We recently read the article posted by Michael Geist to his website earlier this week on the matter of Stargrove Entertainment’s legal action against parties allegedly impeding their sale of recordings which were, at the time, in the public domain in Canada.

We are frequently asked by our members and international partners to offer some counterbalance to Mr. Geist’s views and have been reluctant to do so until now, feeling that it is best not to feed the flames or enter into something that is not based on facts or fairness.

CMPA has no interest in or ability to comment on a legal action. We have no position in the matter, nor can we. We are not going to comment here about the legal aspects of this case.

However, we do have a point of view on many of the tenets of Mr. Geist’s article, and feel compelled to address the broad misconceptions and lapses in logic of his position.

The core of Mr. Geist’s argument is very simple – that copyright is harmful to consumers, who in his view should be able to access music for as low a price as possible.

Actually, in Mr. Geist’s view, that should be pretty much nothing. Free, nada, zilch, a full on race to the bottom. Central to his argument, if you look more closely at his history, is the notion that in the online world, we have a bonanza of free access, and any attempt to curtail that – like in cases where something is under copyright – is keeping prices high for consumers.

Basically, Mr. Geist just wants your songs to be available for free. Fair enough, most of us want to pay less for things, and would actively look for ways to pay less. Everybody loves a sale or a discount. Most of us would never turn down a legitimate opportunity to get something free either.

Mr. Geist appeals to this consumerist view at a simplistic level, and he appeals to the online legions of post-Napsters who believe that if they can find music for free online, they are entitled to pay nothing.

Let’s look at a few of Mr. Geist’s comments. He claims that Stargrove simply pressed up CDs of public domain recordings by The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. What he fails to mention is that virtually all the digital masterings of both these artists are NOT in the public domain – those masterings are still well within copyright.

So what is Stargrove attempting to sell? There are really only two ways to get around the existing digital masterings being under copyright. First is to go back to the original 1960’s vinyl pressings and needle drop those pressings, transferring the needle drops to digital. Second, a bit more nefarious, is to rip the current CD and do some post remastering on that digital clone – inevitably, degrading the sound quality, or at least corrupting the representation of the artist’s work they want to be in the market.

The latter, obviously, has big commercial ramifications for any artist. A substandard version of their work floating around ultimately is disappointing for consumers and makes them less inclined to buy other works from that artist. I hardly think that serves the need of any consumer. It certainly does not serve any notion of preserving our cultural heritage!

Sorry, Mr. Geist. Pressing some needle drops on a slab of Canadian bacon and sticking it in a jewel case is surely not giving cheaper access to cultural works.

The term for these types of pressings that Mr. Geist seems to resist using is gray area CD’s. Product that kind of, sort of, maybe or maybe is not technically legal, but is…shady. Did Mr. Geist ask Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Mick Jagger or Keith Richards how they feel about having their work represented to their customers this way? Well, maybe not Keith..
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And I hardly think that anyone, be it a record label or anyone else, going to a retailer’s site to warn consumers about a substandard product is unethical. Mr. Geist is very effective at employing social media to distribute skewed misinformation. Complaining about a record label doing the same: pot, meet kettle. Stargrove certainly don’t disclose their sources so consumers can make an informed choice, do they?

One of Mr. Geist’s frequent arguments is that copyright restricts choice and access to Canadian Heritage by keeping creative works under the control of those big, nasty monolithic record companies. He doesn’t make that argument in this case, I suppose because it is hard to claim iconic British artists qualify as Canadian Heritage.

Of course, that is nonsense. There has never been easier access to more creative content in human history. Virtually everything can be obtained at low cost from streaming services, download retailers or other legal means. There is no great vacuum in the market that Mr. Geist positions himself as championing. The Beatles are not Canadian Heritage – but without a doubt, they are part of the cultural fabric of millions of Canadians’ lives – indeed, it would be hard to argue that The Beatles have not had a huge cultural impact on every corner of the globe.

The Beatles are part of the Global Cultural Heritage. Is it right that such icons of global culture should not be given the same copyright protection in Canada as they have in the United States, the U.K. and pretty much every other jurisdiction? Mr. Geist fails to mention that Canada is virtually alone in the global economy in providing the same level of copyright protection that The Beatles and thousands of other artists enjoy.

Or should Canada treat music as the commodity that Mr. Geist advocates, consigning artists like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, and countless others, to any huckster’s opportunistic profiteering to the benefit of the discount bins at Wal-Mart?

We think not. We are sure fair-minded Canadians, when the true context and facts are fairly presented to them, would agree.

There is nothing wrong with companies – and people – the songwriters, performers, artists and employees – making a profit and a decent living from their creations. That is how our economy is supposed to work. It isn’t all about a race to the bottom. In the world Mr. Geist envisions, not only will Canadian artists become an endangered species as they can no longer make a sustainable living from their work, Canadian culture will fall under the control of some app in Silicon Valley with a market cap of some billions based on pure speculative investment by some Wall Street hawks. Is that really what Canadians want, to save themselves a few bucks? Doubt it.

The biggest fact that Mr. Geist evades is much more fundamental, and by invoking The Beatles, he again plants the seeds of collapse for his arguments. The reality is, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones have subsidized, through their massive sales, decades of record label investment in up and coming artists, some of whom ‘made it’, some of whom did not, and others who fall into the area of ‘cult legends’ – i.e. hugely influential but never sold enough to pay for a cab ride home. In that sense, it is fair to say not only that copyright had huge economic and cultural benefits – but that it continues to do so, perhaps even more so today as the recording industry continues to adapt to falling revenues brought on by advances in technology.

That is the main reason copyright needs to be extended. Investment in jobs, culture, heritage. I would place real money on betting that Stargrove aren’t investing in creators like record labels, publishers, rights managers and other industry players do. Investment capital. R&D capital. That’s what Mr. Geist misses.

And I wonder how that can be. He is a university professor – a seller of knowledge and intellectual property, in effect. No different really than a songwriter or artist in the sense that in a knowledge-based economy, the song is the creator’s intellectual creation. As a university professor, he is tied into some decidedly consumer unfriendly monopolistic practices – tenure, for example, which maintains quite possibly above market salaries and restricts access dramatically. I figure that most of his ‘product’ can easily be found online, for free. In fact, I can buy a degree from some ‘gray market’ huckster for a few hundred bucks! Why do we maintain this expensive, monopolistic bricks and mortar university industry which obviously both restricts Canadian’s access to higher education by overpricing and is harming consumers? Why should we pay, say, $25 grand a year for university when not only can I get it all online for free, but can get it way cheaper from the gray market?

The answer is – those university fees, endowments, contributions – and yes, a whole lot of taxpayer money (which Mr. Geist frequently rails at the music industry for receiving, all the while having HIS hand firmly in the same pocket) goes to funding a whole lot of RESEARCH going on at Universities. That’s right, R&D spending, the exact same thing the music industry does, largely subsidized by sales of heavyweight artists protected by copyright. Why should consumers pay for that? For the same reasons as the music industry. Some of it recoups, most of it never does, but out of that every once in a while a Beatles will emerge.

Now, the reality is, Mr. Geist knows all this, so he is really kind of a Donald Trump-type guy, taking outrageous positions that find some resonance among a certain demographic because in a subliminal sense he validates their base fears and entitlements. I suspect that if Mr. Geist’s followers were asked to work for less pay, or no pay, or to stand by while their work is posted online for free, they would be outraged. It’s always okay as long as it’s someone else, preferably someone who remains unseen and unmentioned so you can’t put a human face to it. I saved a few bucks, don’t remind me that I did so on some real human being’s back.

These are all just inconvenient truths to Mr. Geist and those who adhere to his views. They will tell you – those big, bad, monopolistic record companies have been ripping me off for decades! I’m entitled to stick it back to the man! And that is exactly the type of sentiment that Mr. Geist cultivates.

The discount bin at Wal-Mart, the bane of late night host barbs, is hardly the gold standard to which any industry aspires (but I had better be careful here, after this my next job may very well be a greeter at my local Wal-Mart).

Ultimately, the only real solution lies with re-establishing value to consumers and putting a human face on our arguments. We can’t overcome the Geist’s of the world who are the one-eyed men leading the blind. On many things, I tend to agree with Mr. Geist. But on this – I can’t help but feel that he has let a personal beef drive a biased agenda. We can’t beat bottom-feeding sentiment with technical arguments on copyright that for many will simply entrench these attitudes even deeper. We have to talk in terms Canadians will respect and understand, putting a human face on what is all too often an abstract matter. And we have to take back the quality mantle.

Beyond EU Antitrust: Sign Up for Class Action Against Google in Europe

September 1, 2015 Leave a comment

Anyone in the music business has felt Google’s boot on their throat in a host of ways.  Set aside the millions of take down notices and the absurd YouTube ContentID system.  Set aside how Google hides advertising revenue from its YouTube cash cow that should rightly go to the artists and songwriters.  The Europeans are focused on a much simpler issue.

Google favors YouTube in video search results.  We all know they do it and they’ve been doing it for years.  Now there may be a chance to actually do something about it, at least in Europe.

As MTP readers will recall, the European Commission has pursued antitrust complaints against Google in Europe on behalf of price comparison sites and others that Google steals content from.  Anyone in the music business is very familiar with Google stealing content in their various business lines–they do it to us all the time when they’re not driving traffic to pirate sites.

According to the New York Times:

[Google] may be the target of a series of new civil lawsuits that claim Google abused its market dominance to favor its own services over those of its rivals.

On Tuesday, Hausfeld, an international law firm [and US-based class action specialist] with connections to companies affected by Google’s activities in Europe, and Avisa, a European public affairs company that has represented complainants in the antitrust case, will announce that they have created an online platform [the Google Redress & Integrity Platform (GRIP)], to help companies sue Google for financial damages in European courts….

“So far, the focus has been on public enforcement,” said Laurent Geelhand, managing partner at Hausfeld, in Brussels, who declined to comment on the size of any potential civil damages. “But what’s still missing is how this has financially affected the victims.”

That’s us.

According to Reuters:

[T]he [GRIP] platform would build on the European Commission’s April charge sheet, which accuses Google of unfairly promoting its own shopping service to the disadvantage of rivals.

“GRIP offers corporations, consumers and other entities harmed by Google’s anti-competitive business practices in Europe a mechanism to evaluate their potential claims,” Michael Hausfeld, chairman of Hausfeld, said in a statement.

Re/code quotes Avisa Partners:

“It has been five years between the first complaint against Google and the EC’s statement of objections, which is about three times longer than the groundbreaking Microsoft case,” Jacques Lafitte, founder of Avisa Partners, said in a statement. “Google’s president, lawyers and publicists have worked well to create this delay. But Google has not been able to stop the inevitable: It finally faces justice.”

Yeah.  What he said.

IMPALA have brought their own complaint with the European Commission which, as far as I know, is still in the hopper and has not been acted on as yet, although I’m sure it will be.  Even so, artists and labels may wish to consider investigating the Hausfeld online platform to see if it would make sense for them to participate in any civil action against Google.

While Google’s potential exposure to a ruling against the company would start with a staggering $6 billion fine, that fine does not preclude civil lawsuits against Google by those it has harmed.  While nobody takes paying a $6 billion fine lightly, does it really seem like it would be a lot of money to Google?  And when you consider that Google have managed to drag out the adjudication for years already, it really seems rather like chump change.  No pun intended.

We appear to have a law firm interested in at least helping potential plaintiffs bring these cases.  Why not at least check it out?

U.S. music folk should be thinking that this may be their last chance to get justice from Google.  Since Google already owns the U.S. government, it’s unlikely there will be any in this country.

News from the Goolag: What if You Make a Deal with Spotify and It Turns Out to Be With YouTube?

August 31, 2015 Leave a comment

We’ve all heard from numerous sources that Spotify is in the middle of renegotiating their license agreements with at least the major labels.  What has gotten less attention is YouTube’s interest in buying Spotify.  Spotify’s exit to an IPO is getting cloudier by the day as another tech bubble bursts in Wall Street alongside a volatile stock market, one should not rule out an acquisition of Spotify and who better to do it than Google’s wholly-owned YouTube subsidiary.

Remember that we saw this July 21, 2014 story in Re/Code by the highly credible tech journalist Kara Swisher:

Omid Kordestani, who has just temporarily replaced Nikesh Arora as chief business officer of Google, is joining the board of Spotify, according to people with knowledge of the situation.

In addition, sources said, one of the search giant’s former execs, Shishir Mehrotra, will become a special adviser to CEO Daniel Ek and the company’s management.

The move is a fascinating one, especially since sources inside Google said that new YouTube head Susan Wojcicki has expressed interest in acquiring the popular online music service if it were for sale. It is not currently and there are no such discussions going on between the pair about such a transaction.

YouTube is so disinterested in buying Spotify that Ms. Swisher was evidently asked to revisit that July 21 story on July 22 to clarify the reference to Google’s potential purchase of Spotify–only.   She wrote:

…Spotify co-founder and CEO Daniel Ek has indeed met with Google execs about various and substantive commercial deals at YouTube, Google Play and Android.

“There has not been a single conversation about Google’s interest between the two,” said one source, reflecting many others. “There was never a price, never a negotiation, never anything.”

Like most truths in business, that will be true until it’s not.

Does YouTube have the money?  That’s hard to tell because of the total lack of transparency about YouTube’s earnings in Google’s already opaque balance sheet.  However, Morgan Stanley analysts have broken out an estimate of YouTube’s earnings revealing an astonishing profit margin and revenue growth:

They clearly have–or can get–the money.  Given the paltry royalty that YouTube pays to artists, songwriters, labels and publishers, a Spotify acquisition would put the proverbial fox in the henhouse.  And like all of Google’s other efforts, that means the already pathetic Spotify royalties could go into a nose dive.

So you have to ask yourself–what protections are built into the soon-to-be renegotiated Spotify deals to allow copyright owners to pull out of a license if involves getting further into the Google grasp?

An Interview with Andrew Shaw of PRS for Music on Negotiating with Google, a guest post by Jonathan David Neal

August 27, 2015 Comments off

[Editor Charlie sez: We are lectured to endlessly about “transparency” by Google and their fellow travelers.  Google is, of course, famously opaque, so whatever they mean by “transparency” they don’t apply the same standard to themselves and never will.

This post is by Jonathan David Neal and originally appeared in The Score, the membership publication of the Society of Composers and Lyricists.  You can read his blog at Composer’s POV. PRS for Music is the principal music licensing body for performances of music in the United Kingdom and is roughly the equivalent of ASCAP, BMI and SESAC for UK residents.  Although this interview is from 2009, it gives you some insight into Google’s over the top negotiation tactics and how they use the withholding of content as a negotiation tactic in the press–enforcing your property rights is “censorship” don’t you know.  This is a long read, but worth every minute and is information you won’t get anywhere else.]

An interview by composer Jonathan David Neal with Andrew Shaw, Managing Director of Broadcast and Online of PRS for Music.

Background:

In the summer of 2007 PRS For Music, the UK PRO, licensed You Tube, owned by Google, for music use on a per download basis. That contract ended at the end of December 2008, at which time Google and PRS entered negotiations to renew the contract. In March 2009 while continuing negotiations Google, without warning blocked premium content access to users in the UK and few weeks later did the same thing in Germany. I interviewed Andrew Shaw (who is one of the PRS negotiators) in London on May 15, 2009. This story has strong implications for composers, songwriters and lyricists all over the world, since we are in a continuing struggle to maintain our rights as creators and copyright owners.

Neal: Please give us a short back-story to the [PRS’s] struggle with Google & You Tube

Shaw: Well, I think that to understand what is happening now you need to understand the history of where it all came from. You Tube as you know was started in December 2005 and was bought by Google in early to mid 2006 and that’s the time it really started getting some traction in the market place. The service had evolved from very humble beginnings as a way for private individuals to share their home videos. But over a period of time, the content that was being uploaded was copyright content rather than people having dinner parties and they were for a long time relying on their DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) protections and equivalent protections in Europe to say they had no liability for the content.

Neal: For the readers please explain DMCA.

Shaw: Digital Millennium Copyright Act, that is essentially the US law that says if you are a mere conduit you don’t have any  responsibility for what’s transmitted over your pipe provided that if someone notifies you that you are hosting illegal content, you take reasonable steps to take it down as soon as possible [Ed. Charlie: And without knowledge of infringment and if you terminate repeat infringers]. Google was saying, “Look we are just a big electronic notice board that some people around the  world decide to post things onto and other people around the world decide to come and have a look at these notices and we’ve actually got no idea what’s going on.”

Part of the business logic was that there is a huge community of users out here and “if we take the Google experience and knowledge of digital advertising sales and sprinkle some of that pixie dust onto You Tube, you’ve got excellent digital advertising sales married with a huge user base and massive traffic scale.” I think one of the reasons it hasn’t worked in that way is you’ve got millions of individual pieces of content that are all being viewed, the majority of which are being viewed a relatively small number of times.

The whole principle of Google’s advertising is it’s contextual advertising but they couldn’t actually identify what the content is, so if you tag a video as, for example, “Madonna,” You Tube or a computer has no idea whether that is a pop video or something about the Catholic church.

Advertisers were finding that adverts were appearing next to content that they weren’t quite aware of what that content was. They wanted their brand to be associated in certain places and not with others types of content. [Ed. Charlie sez: like an implied endorsement.] So the whole business model of advertising and targeted advertising required a much greater level of precision of knowledge of what was in the video.

Now as soon as you get into a level of knowledge about what’s in the video, by default you know what that video is and therefore, you start to lose your potential defenses that you are just a mere conduit and you don’t know what’s going on.

So there is a sort of process whereby, I suppose you call it “dancing around the handbags,” where they came to us and said, “We would like to have a license, but, of course, we don’t need one.” We said, “We’d like to give you a license, but we need to know what you’re doing.” They said, “Well we can’t tell you because we don’t know, because if we knew…” and there was a sort of Kafkaesque situation.

But we took what I think was a pragmatic view at the time and said look, at the end of the day we’ve actually  got two choices. We can either license You Tube and try and get what we believe is a fair and equitable remuneration for the works being used and pass that back to our members or we can go down the litigious route and sue them like Viacom had done or we can do nothing. We felt that doing nothing was sort of tacit approval that this was all acceptable.

We took the pragmatic view that licensing was preferable to litigation, for a number of reasons. First of all, getting into litigation was always going to be extremely expensive, extremely time consuming and take a long time to get resolution. The Viacom case proves that point. At the end of the day the outcome was very uncertain. An uncertain outcome might have been great, it might have been not so good and in a worst case, it could have been not so good with a knock on impact on all sorts of other areas of our business. We took the view that licensing was the best approach, so we licensed them.

We were the first society in the world to license You Tube, which was a major coup for us. But, I think that it was also, a major turning point for You Tube because it was the first time, that they had, actually, by default, recognized that they required a license, where if they didn’t require a license and they were so sure of that they certainly wouldn’t take one out. So, we licensed them in the summer of 2007. The license expired at the end of last year, 2008.

During the two years of You Tube’s license they were a model licensee. They did absolutely everything they said they were going to do, they went above and often beyond the call of duty in terms of trying to work with us to develop standardized reporting mechanisms, reporting tools, and we enjoyed a very good working relationship with them.

So, we’re now in a position at the end of 2008 where our license comes up to expire, we’ve got 18 months worth of data about what is actually being used on the service.

We’ve also seen a big transition in the content that’s been on the service over that 18 month period. They had realized that a very large number of videos being watched over a relatively small period of time, with no knowledge of what’s going on, was not going to generate big advertising revenue. Where the advertising money was going to be was in sponsorships and professional content. And so they started actively acquiring what they called seeded content, so they went to the BBC and did a deal to get clips of programs and previews. They’ve now expanded this to all sorts of different content owners, whether it be Hollywood studios, music labels, the White House, Downing Street, whatever.

[Ed. Charlie sez: The evidence against YouTube in the ongoing Viacom case and class action suggests that YouTube knowingly and purposely seeded their website with illegally obtained and distributed premium content for the purpose of profiting from the users attracted to the seeded content.]

A large proportion of the value of what is being generated by YouTube is actually around seeded content [Ed. Charlie: that is the revenue to YouTube], notwithstanding the fact that it accounts for a relatively small proportion of the usage. So you’ve got a sort of asynchronous pattern there. And, clearly music has been a very big area for them; they’ve done deals with all the labels except Warner Bros. and the labels have actively created channels for their artists on YouTube, where artist videos can be shown/promoted.

Now as far as we’re concerned, when you use a generated content, it’s pretty hard to value as far as the music, for instance, from the copyright point of view because you don’t know whether the music is in the foreground, the background, whether it’s incidental, whether it’s 30 seconds, 5 seconds or is it the whole point of the piece or is it just incidental to it. Then if you sort of move up the hierarchy of value, as far as music is concerned, you get into the professional seeded content where clearly there is some economic benefit being derived either by YouTube or the content user or both as a result of making that content available.

But still, music is a supporting ingredient to the finished created work. And then the “top end” of value from our perspective, is something like a pop video where music is actually the whole essence of it. If you then relate that to our regulatory framework, we have something called a “joint-online” license, which is our licensing scheme for digital music, and it was the subject of a  copyright tribunal decision back in 2007.

The copyright tribunal (UK Copyright Tribunal-similar to the US CRB) set a rate which was sort of equivalent to the American CRB, and the rate that they set for digital exploitation of music, pure music, like a pop video, was the greater of 8% of revenue or 0.22 pence per work streamed. So, every time a video was shown, we should have been paid at the greater of 8% or 0.22 pence.

The rates that they (the UK Copyright Tribunal) published in the summer of 2007, would only be applicable for a 2-year period, and it would expire in July 2009; they didn’t say what would happen after that. So, it is obviously incumbent upon us to do extensive market analysis and then come to a decision as to whether anything material had changed between then and now that would justify amending those rates or the structure of those rates, and if so to put that into place. So, we’ve been going through this process, and we are close to publishing what our new rates will be in the next few weeks. But YouTube, and Google has, and again, this is not confidential because they’ve said it publicly, said their position is a per-stream minimum for a service like You Tube doesn’t work, the only thing that works is a percentage of revenue. On a superficial level, their argument sounds very plausible. They say, “We’re trying to create this brand new business model, we’re giving exposure to all of these artists and these musical works, all we want to do is share in the revenues that we’re able to generate with the creators of those works. We absolutely believe the creators should be paid, but they should be paid a percentage of what we can make.”

Our view is that music has a value, irrespective of whether or not someone else is able to generate revenue out of it. If [music] didn’t have a value, then, [Google] wouldn’t be using it.

And it is very important for a number of reasons, including that the rights of creators are respected and they are remunerated a small amount of money every single time the music is played. There are a number of reasons why it’s important, one is, as I’ve said, it has a value.

The second is that specifically with respect to YouTube, any person who is uploading content has 3 choices when they upload that content. It gets fingerprinted and they can choose to monetize it, they can choose to not monetize it, or they can choose to block it. But, we don’t believe that if a third party makes a decision not to monetize content that it can be fair to the creator of that content not to get any sort of remuneration; a decision over which they (the creators) have no control.

The third reason is that with respect again to YouTube, there is a huge amount of crosssubsidization going on. Before the internet came along, there were lots of areas of commerce where as product or services become commoditized, what their provider does is bundle them with other products and services. So whether it’s handsets and minutes for mobile phone tariffs, whether it’s cable television and telephone and broadband connection from a cable TV provider, or whether it’s Google, whose business actually is all about the monetization of data.

To a large extent they don’t care whether the data they have about you comes from your email usage, your calendar, your search patterns or what you’re watching on You Tube. All of that has a value to them that is far greater than the sum of the parts. And therefore, simply looking at how much advertising is sold against one particular page of showing a video on YouTube is not an accurate and reflective economic analysis on which to base an appropriate remuneration for creators. That fundamentally, is a difference of opinion between the two of us.

We believe creators should be paid a small amount of money every time their music is used.

They [Google] believe that creators should be paid a percentage of what they can make in terms of advertising.

So, what happened after that is that we had been having our negotiations and had a meeting scheduled for, a series of meetings scheduled and a plan to try and come to some resolution, when on a Monday afternoon, I received a phone call from Google saying “We have made a decision that we are going to block all premium music content with effect from 6pm tonight.”

Neal: No notice? [Ed. Charlie sez: Welcome to the Googleplex.]

Shaw: No, this call came at 2:30 in the afternoon. This was clearly a very calculated and premeditated tactic on their part, because first of all, we had actually had a meeting with them the previous Friday where we had been consulting with them on what their views were for our new joint online license. The next negotiation meeting had actually been penciled in for the following day, a Tuesday, so it was rather strange that 2:30 in the afternoon, I get this phone call, and within 5 minutes of me putting the phone down, I started getting calls from our press office, who were receiving calls from every single media outlet in the UK, saying “We’ve heard that Google is about to block all music videos in the UK tonight-what have you got to say about it?”

Chris Smith: Big Day . . .

Shaw: Now, what they actually did was very highly targeted, and designed to create a much bigger story than the actual impact on the user experience. If you go on to YouTube even today in the UK, you may not be able to find every single version of a particular pop video, but I would pretty much bet that whatever video you wanted to find, you could find a version of it somewhere. So, they have not blocked all music videos in the UK. What they have purported to do, is to block what they call Premium Music Content. Premium Music Content by their definition is content that is either being uploaded by record labels or claimed by record labels, either some label uploaded or it seems someone else has uploaded it, they’ve owned it and they’ve said we own the copyright in this and therefore it’s part of our pot.

I think there are 3 reasons why they honed in on these two. Number one, it was the only part of the content set that actually disrupted other people’s revenue funds. So, if Joe Blog gets their video blocked, they get pissed off, but, so what? If Universal Music gets their video blocked, they stop receiving revenue every time that video is played.

So, the tactic, one has to assume, was to put pressure on other people who were being affected, to put pressure on us, to concede our position. So, one was it was disrupting other people’s revenue flows.

The second was that it was highly targeted, as I said, on the Premium Music Content, which actually accounted for a relatively small portion of all usage on YouTube. So, the videos concerned, and we don’t know exactly how many there are, because it seems to change on a daily basis, but it accounts for probably single digit percentage of total views or streams viewed on YouTube.

The third reason was that they will still at some point claim that as far as user generated content is concerned, (as opposed to) user uploaded content, because they are two quite different things, they would still want to fall back on some sort of “We’ve got no responsibility for this.” As soon as you start blocking something because it fits into a certain category then you have to know what it is in order to block it.

So, by leaving all of the user uploaded content alone they preserve their position with respect to DMCA protections and a lack of obligation to take responsibility for that content.

So they have blocked some of these videos, a few weeks later they did the same thing in Germany. They publicly said that the reason they did it was because they were unable to reach an agreement with us, although, we were still in the middle of a negotiation and we certainly did not ask them to take this action, and take content down.

They also said they felt uncomfortable being in a position where they were not licensed. Now, I find that quite ironic, given that the other 200 or so countries in the world don’t seem to pose such a moral dilemma for them and their content is still available there. Since the date of the take-down, or the blockage, I think March, about 2 months ago now, so early March, we have continued to talk to them and we do continue to talk to them, but there is still a fundamental difference of opinion over what they are responsible for and what is the appropriate mechanism to judge that.

Neal: At this point, you don’t really know what kind of effect it’s had? Have you heard from publishing members or record labels complaining that they’re losing money on this?

Shaw: No. I have to say we’ve been extremely pleased by the support that we’ve got from a wide variety of constituents and  stakeholders in the industry, and actually, not just in our industry, but across all creative industries.

This is not an issue between Google and PRS Music: this is a battle that we happen to have stuck our head above the parapet, being in a large territory that’s important to them, perhaps having been the first to license them, but, we are being made an example of in a battle that applies equally to record labels, it applies to journalists, it applies to book publishers and photography.

Any type of content that is being exploited over the internet, where there is a very fine line between a company providing an ability for consumers to find what they’re looking for, that other people have put there, and a company that is actually providing that content as a service provider. There is a fine line between data and/or information and content. If you go on to Google’s corporate website and look at their strategy file, their mission statement, one of their strat lines is “Don’t be evil” but another is there that is the corporate mission, (I can’t remember it verbatim) but it’s something like “to make all the world’s information available to anybody who wants to find it,” something like that. And that word, “information”, was probably put in there when that’s exactly what they did, but the line between information and content has become very, very blurred.

And if you look at what’s going on in the US with the book settlement, you look at what’s going on all over the world with newspapers and the Google news aggregation service and Google books as well, there are lots of areas where that line is becoming very blurred and probably being overstepped.

___________________

Conclusion by Jonathan David Neal

This is just one example, in one part of the world of how some corporate giants are trying to devalue the work and content of creators, and ultimately respect of composers, and songwriters. It’s happening all over the world. Their mantra has been, “you need us.” However, they need our content, which is just as important. A second observation is, “if they devalue our intellectual property, they undermine the value of their own intellectual property, their services and everyone loses.”

It’s very short sighted. We as composers, songwriters and lyricists need to take an active stand against those who would devalue our work and demand respect for our craft and ourselves.

Note: On September 3, 2009 PRS for Music announced a new licensing agreement that covers music contained in videos streamed via the online video platform.  Premium music videos have now been reinstated to YouTube in the United Kingdom.

Thanks to Dan Foliart and UK Composer Chris Smith, for helping me make this interview possible. Chris sits on the board of PRS-MCPS and arranged the interview, which took place at PRS For Music’s London office in May of 2009.

Now that’s a special relationship

August 25, 2015 Leave a comment

According to the New York Times:

President François Hollande of France on Monday awarded the Legion of Honor, France’s highest award, to three Americans and a Briton for their role in stopping a gunman on a high-speed train traveling to Paris from Amsterdam on Friday.

The three Americans — Airman First Class Spencer Stone, 23; Alek Skarlatos, 22, a specialist in the Oregon National Guard; and their friend Anthony Sadler, 23 — received the honor in the gilded halls of the Élysée Palace, where they were joined by Chris Norman, 62, a British consultant….

A French citizen who was the first to tackle Mr. Khazzani but who has declined to be identified will receive the honor at a later date, as will Mark Moogalian, 51, a passenger with dual French and American citizenship who struggled with the attacker and is recovering from a bullet wound….

Mr. Norman, speaking in French to reporters after the ceremony, said he felt honored by the distinction. “I did what I had to do,” he said. “It wasn’t heroism, it was what needed to be done in a situation of survival.”

The three Americans did not speak publicly on Monday, but at a news conference on Sunday at the American ambassador’s residence, they brushed aside suggestions that they were heroes.

Right.  They were just there when the wheel went round.  But it did go round and they were there.

 

Spotify Apologizes for Using Your Music To Spy on Your Fans

August 24, 2015 Leave a comment

Digital Music News reports again today on the latest Spotify debacle, this time data mining from pretty much everything users do on the service including mining their contacts.

In our new privacy policy, we indicated that we may ask your permission to access new types of information, including photos, mobile device location, voice controls, and your contacts.

Let’s be clear–there’s really no reason for anyone to have a Spotify account if they’re not coming to the service because of some artist’s music.  So how they treat fans is very important.

Explain to me exactly why Spotify needs your fans’ contacts when you’ve already created the motivation to send the fan to Spotify in the first place?

And even if they could get the data mining into some socially acceptable format, do you think they are doing this for free or are they selling the data out the back door?

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