Google paid music labels more than $3 billion, but they say it isn't enough

The music streaming storm is still raging.

Artists and their labels have been battling streaming services over payment rates since the technology started becoming popular. Big names like Adele and Taylor Swift have pulled their music from platforms they don’t think pay enough to artists.

So when Google says that they have paid out more than $3 billion to the music industry through YouTube, one might be surprised that labels are still upset.

Their main problem is continued copyright violations.

In a recent report, Google claims that it fights piracy on YouTube through its Content ID system. Content ID allows copyright holders to upload samples of their work, and then instruct YouTube on what to do with material that gets uploaded that matches the original copyrighted work.

More than 90% of copyright holders opt to monetise uploaded content with their copyrighted material instead of taking that material down, according to Google. A lot of the uploaded content includes fan-made music videos and cover versions of a song, which can make rights holders money if they choose to monetise instead of blocking this content.

For some in the industry, Content ID isn’t enough to stop piracy of copyrighted music, and the service still hasn’t paid out what it ought to.

“Although we welcome the measures Google has taken so far, it is still one of the key enablers of piracy on the planet,” Geoff Taylor, chief executive of British Phonographic Industry, said in a release.

“The [Google] report looks a lot like greenwash.”

Taylor’s main criticisms of YouTube and Content ID come from how effective the technology is. He says it’s too easy to upload copyright offending content that gets by the filter, and Google is not doing enough to stop this type of behaviour. It doesn’t block users from uploading videos to YouTube that detail how to get around ContentID, for example.

“Despite its amazing innovations in mapping the Earth and inventing driverless cars, Google hasn’t managed to implement a Content ID system that people can’t easily get around,” Taylor said.

Other labels have said that Content ID is great, but doesn’t go far enough.

Universal Music Group has hired more than a dozen people and spent millions of dollars trying to keep up with copyright violations on YouTube, despite its Content ID system.

With Taylor Swift’s recent 1989 album, the music group decided to block content with “1989” copyright violations instead of monetizing them. Despite their efforts, the album was illegally downloaded 1.4 million times, albeit from torrenting sites instead of YouTube, according to a letter filed with the US Copyright Office.

Google responds to these types of criticisms by pointing out that the music industry receives 50% of its YouTube revenue from monetizing user content instead of blocking it.

The internet giant is pro-user and operates that way online. For the music labels to be truly happy, it would seem like Google would have to change a core aspect of how it goes about its business.

Music labels want complete control over their copyright materials. In a perfect world, the only way to listen to your favourite artists would be to pay the music labels to do so. Google tends to err on the side of an open internet, creating tools to empower users and then mostly stepping back to allow the users to use the technology how they wish.

After all, one of their core tenets is “focus on the user, and all else will follow.”

They don’t block download links to “1989” on Pirate Bay, and they don’t take down videos detailing how to break copyright protections on their platforms. If Google were to start bending to the music labels wishes, they would have to make their services arguably less useful for users, something they obviously are against.

Google is fighting back by providing real numbers in their piracy report, while the labels largely have only anecdotal evidence. The labels are fighting a multi-front war against streaming services, as more keep popping up and never seem to pay enough to make the artists or labels happy.

Streaming music isn’t going away, and neither is online piracy, so it would seem largely up to the music labels to come to the table with solutions to the problem.

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