YouTube Ordered To Pay $1.6 Million To ASCAP

from the making-sausages dept

You may remember last year around this time, a district court set a totally arbitrary royalty fee that AOL, Yahoo and RealNetworks had to pay ASCAP for music streamed over their services. Reading through the details of the decision was immensely troubling, because it seemed to calculate the amounts on a somewhat meaningless formula based on taking a percentage of revenue from the companies that had absolutely nothing to do with music itself. Basically, it looked at almost any revenue that somehow sorta kinda touched on music (including search) and included that as part of the calculation process. Recently, ASCAP and Google went through a similar case in front of the same district court to determine just how much Google has to pay ASCAP for all the music streamed on YouTube. To be honest, I'm still not sure why it makes sense that Google has to pay anything for this, but that's one of the oddities of modern copyright law.

While the decision hasn't received much press attention, last week, the court ordered Google to pay $1.6 million to ASCAP (thanks to Eric Goldman for sending me the decision). The court seemed to take a "split the difference" approach, as ASCAP had asked for $12 million for all music streamed between 2005 and the end of 2008 (and another $7 million for 2009). YouTube, in response, had suggested $79,500 for 2005 through the end of 2008 and then $20,000 per quarter ongoing. The court rejected both proposals, and dinged both companies for weakly supporting their positions, or being somewhat misleading in their assertions. Google, for instance, tried to focus on the number of "music videos" as compared to the total number of videos on YouTube, though the court noted that the music videos seem to get a lot more views than many of those other videos, and it doesn't take into account the time spent viewing each video. ASCAP basically said: "just take that formula you used last year for AOL, Yahoo and Real and apply it to Google revenue."

The court, instead, went into a lengthy justification of trying to come up with a "fair" proposal, involving an awful lot of redacted information on YouTube's revenue (though... if you work through all the numbers you might be able to piece back together some revenue info) and eventually came up with $1.4 million for 2005 through 2008, and then $70,000 per month afterwards, which, when added to the additional fees this year, brought it up to $1.61 million to date (and counting). Of course, this is all supposed to be a temporary sort of thing until the two sides can work out an agreement on their own -- but given the vast differences in proposals (as the court noted, ASCAP was asking for a rate 150 times as large as YouTube's proposal), it doesn't seem like the two sides are close.

Either way, reading this ruling as well as last year's ruling shows what a total mess this process is. Basically, ASCAP gets to go in and demand cash from anyone who benefits from music anywhere, and a judge sorta randomly makes up reasons to give them cash. I know that ASCAP supporters will claim that the money is for songwriters, not the record labels, and it's important and blah blah blah. But the whole system of such collective licenses is a mess that it makes it close to impossible to do anything with music without getting yourself into a huge licensing hole. For more than a century now, Congress and the courts seem to look at every innovation and simply slap another license fee on it, and leave it to the courts to sort out any mess. All of these license fees add up to a massive tax on innovation that divert money from good business models and into the hands of collections societies, who siphon off a piece and often don't do a very good job distributing that cash. It's a massively inefficient model that's simply not needed.

Filed Under: copyright, court, rates, songwriters, streaming
Companies: ascap, google, youtube


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  1. identicon
    Michael Garcia-Beard, 21 May 2009 @ 2:29pm

    Licensing/Copyrights

    I think if this practice of taking Google and other web companies to court continues it will kill the MAJOR label industry fast. I am an indie singer/songwriter registered with BMI and I personally feel that when you are doing marketing and promotions you should be encouraging sites such as Google to play your music,interviews,videos whatever.This gives the fans the opportunity to really get to know an artist. If they continue to fight this they will only end up in a losing battle in the end.

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