YouTube may have to pay billions to music stars after EU copyright vote

The legislation won’t become official until it’s voted on by the entire European Parliament

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 21 June, 2018, 1:28am
UPDATED : Thursday, 21 June, 2018, 3:08am

Music stars from Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran to Beyoncé and Jay-Z could be in line for big paydays after YouTube lost a crucial vote in Brussels over new copyright laws that will force it to pay billions of dollars in fees for users watching music videos.

For years the music industry has argued that YouTube exploits the lack of legal protection around videos being viewed on its service to pay minimal amounts to artists and labels when they are viewed.

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The music industry has lobbied that this “value gap” between the true worth of the music videos and what YouTube decides to pay needs to be addressed with legislation.

On Wednesday, a crucial vote by the European Parliament’s legal affairs committee went the way of the music industry with an agreement to adopt copyright laws that will force platforms such as YouTube to seek licences for music videos.

“The importance of today’s vote cannot be overstated; this proposal is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to create a new balance in the online world,” said Helen Smith, the executive chair of the European music body Impala, which represents labels behind acts including Adele, Arctic Monkeys and Franz Ferdinand.

“It is about copyright and making sure creators and their partners get a fair share of the value they create.”

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YouTube has an estimated 1.3 billion users who regularly watch music videos, and it paid US$856m in royalties to music companies last year – an estimated 67 cents per user annually.

In the UK, record labels and artists earn more than double the royalties from the sale of 4.1 million vinyl records than they did from the 25 billion music videos watched on YouTube last year.

By contrast, income from the 272 million music fans who paid for ad-supported services such as Spotify, generated US$5.6 billion in royalties, or about US$20 per user annually.

While the legal affairs committee vote marks a landmark moment – it is the lead committee on the legislation that has been the subject of vociferous lobbying by tech companies and the music industry for 18 months – it will face a further challenge before becoming law. The committee voted 15 to 10 to adopt Article 13.

It is expected that a challenge will be lodged by opponents in the European Parliament, which will result in the entire parliament voting in July to decide whether to approve or reject Wednesday’s result. A final vote on the adoption of the overall legislation will be made later in the year.