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YouTube Should Let Musicians Opt Out, Manager Says

Taylor Swift The 1989 World Tour Live In GreensboroTaylor Swift The 1989 World Tour Live In Greensboro
Taylor Swift performs at a concert at the Greensboro Coliseum on October 21, 2015 in Greensboro, North Carolina. Photograph by Steve Exum—LP5 /Getty Images for TAS

The battle between YouTube and the music industry won’t go away.

Famed musician manager Irving Azoff fired the latest salvo on Monday in an open letter to YouTube, arguing that the company doesn’t give artists enough control over how their music is consumed. In fact, he argues that artists should be allowed to go so far as to opt-out of having their tracks on the streaming service if they wish.

“Taylor Swift should be able to decide which of her songs are available for free, and which are part of a paid subscription service,” he writes. “Or she should be able to opt out of YouTube if you won’t give her this choice. But artists can’t opt out of YouTube.”

Azoff went on to explain that in order for an artist to have a song removed from YouTube is to use the company’s Content ID tool, which requires artists to identify improper use of their tracks and alert YouTube (GOOGL). He added that YouTube “continues to hide behind” provisions in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which allows for certain use of copyrighted material as long as it’s not for commercial purposes.

“When it comes to music, YouTube claims it has no control, and can’t keep a song off its platform,” he writes. “You exercise control over content when it is good for your business. But the truth is that, from the beginning, free music consumption drove YouTube’s business, and so YouTube chose not to give artists control over how their music reaches their fans.”

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Azoff is just the latest in a long line of people in the music industry to sound off about YouTube and copyrighted music on its service. Like Azoff, musicians have long argued that users uploading their videos or tracks to YouTube is a violation of copyright law and ultimately hurts their wallets, since they don’t get royalties on that use. They’ve added that YouTube also causes them to lose control over how they communicate with their fans.

For its part, YouTube has said that it’s actually working in the best interests of artists. In a blog post late last month, YouTube denied claims of “mistreating musicians,” adding that it has paid over $3 billion in royalties to the industry “and that number is growing significantly year-over-year.”

“The truth is that YouTube takes copyright management extremely seriously and we work to ensure rights-holders make money no matter who uploads their music,” Christophe Muller, head of YouTube’s International Music Partnerships, wrote in the post. “No other platform gives as much money back to creators—big and small—across all kinds of content.”

Muller went on to say that just 0.5% of all copyright infringement claims YouTube receives come from the music industry. The rest, Muller says, are handled by YouTube. What’s more, he said, about 50% of the royalties YouTube pays to the industry come from “fan-uploaded content.”

Indeed, the debate is one that cannot—and will not—be solved so easily. It’s also one that YouTube has been hearing from all sides of the entertainment industry for years. Ultimately, it comes down to how YouTube should monitor the fire hose of content being heaped onto its platform each day, all while ensuring that copyrights aren’t violated and copyright holders are paid.

Meanwhile, the music industry is in transition. Over the last couple of decades, the business model has changed dramatically from one that focused on album sales to digital sales. Now, the industry is again transitioning with the ever-increasing popularity of music streaming services, like Spotify. With each stream, artists and copyright holders are paid a royalty. Whether they’re making enough, however, is again up for debate.

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Even within music streaming, there’s a kerfuffle over how to proceed. Major artists, like Taylor Swift and Adele, have kept their latest albums off Spotify because that service has an ad-supported version that lets users listen to tracks for free with ads. Spotify, which also has a paid plan, has argued that an ad-supported model allows for more people to be exposed to music. Along the way, competitors, including Jay-Z’s Tidal and Apple Music, have streamed the albums because they offer paid services.

Still, it’s YouTube with which Azoff, like so many others in the music industry, seems most concerned.

“Labels can take the deals you offer or engage in an impossible, expensive game of ‘whack a mole,’ while the music they control is still being exploited without any compensation,” he writes. “Spotify and Apple (AAPL) don’t have that advantage, and this is why they are better partners to music creators.”

That comment came after Muller argued that comparing YouTube to paid services, like Apple Music, is “like comparing what a cab driver earns from fares to what they earn showing ads in their taxi.” In other words, YouTube retorts it’s an unfair comparison.

Regardless, the row over music and royalties and how musical content on YouTube should be addressed is unlikely to be one that will be solved anytime soon. YouTube has, after all, been hearing the complaints since its inception, and given Azoff’s open letter came after YouTube tried to “set the record straight,” it’s unlikely that the din from the music industry will cease.

YouTube did not immediately respond to a request for comment.