Good news! After several months of secret negotiations, Youtube and the Performing Rights Society (PRS) for music have finally agreed to make “premium music videos” available to viewers in the UK (that includes the author of this blog, who had to live with illegal, sometimes hard to find, but otherwise rather identical versions of the songs for a while).
Unfortunately, when I tried to start the day with a legal premium version of Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face”, I was still denied this acoustic pleasure because the legal agreement apparently takes some time to translate into “tangible” changes. Or the guys at Youtube can’t find the list of things they took offline because some intern deleted it. Or the guys at Youtube are actually on holidays and the legal department doesn’t have their phone numbers. Whatever the reason, I have to wait for my Lady Gaga video.
You and I may wonder what the deal was that Youtube and the PRS took so long to agree on. The answer is, nobody knows. Well, maybe a handful of people know but they had to sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement. In other words, they were unmistakably told to shut up about it or they would be send to work in a Google server farm in Siberia.
How to pay Lady Gaga
Until somebody leaks the information, we can only guess what the agreement entails. First of all, it may help to note that drafting, managing, and enforcing online copyright regulations is a terribly, terribly complex thing that not many people fully understand (I’m certainly not one of them). One reason it took the PRS and Youtube so long to agree on something and then keep it secret is that it hasn’t been done very often on such a scale before.
In a nutshell, the PRS collects royalties for the artists and songwriters it represents when their works are played out. As far as I understand, this has very little to do with the record labels (who also hold some rights regarding the performance and reproduction of these works). There are basically two ways in which such royalties may be collected: as one-by-one payments and as a flat rate. For example, radio stations pay a flat rate (a so-called “blanket license”).
So far, Youtube had a one-by-one payment agreement with the PRS. Every time somebody listened to Lady Gaga, Youtube had to pay a certain amount of money (a fraction of a penny, I believe) to the PRS, which forwarded it to Lady Gaga. This may have been too cumbersome for Youtube. More importantly, it may have been too expensive. So there are rumors now that Youtube succeeded in switching to a flat rate, paying one sum of money, irrespective of how many times a video is watched.
Why Lady Gaga may not be happy
Some people in the music industry seem to be pretty upset about this agreement, including the artists and songwriters themselves. They are upset because they don’t know how much a performance of their work on Youtube is actually worth. It is an entirely nontransparent agreement. What is more, the value of each played out video would be decreasing if Youtube actually enforced a flat rate payment. No matter how many times Lady Gaga’s songs are played, she would always receive the same amount of royalties. I’m sure she’s financially in good shape, but it can make a difference for smaller artists.
Anyways, I’ll be checking again tomorrow morning to see if the video’s are actually up and running again.