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Venomous debates and negotiations between YouTube/Google and content owners are nothing new, but they have just gone to the next level. In the United Kingdom, Google and PRS for Music (the overseas equivalent of ASCAP/BMI) have so far failed to reach an agreement on the payment of royalties for the broadcasting of music videos and visitors find themselves blocked from watching videos with licensed music.
Since negotiations are ongoing, this seems like a heavy-handed intimidation tactic, but it also underscores the power struggle over the content treasure trove and the degree to which the public suffers. Neither side seems to be willing to concede that the other side is an integral part of the content distribution process. In many ways, YouTube is the self-service radio of this Internet age and its users are interested in instant gratification. Because every hit song has an accompanying video that can be found on the Internet, major music channels like MTV and VH1 now deal mostly in their own original content. Radio has been losing listeners, and now the Internet has become the most effective means of promotion.
Unfortunately, a more technologically complex distribution method means that the distribution of money becomes more complex as well. With so many parties interested in their piece of the pie, the true purpose of the content, entertainment and/or education of the public gets lost in the details.
So, how do we shift the focus back to the consumer? The first possibility is to let this round of debate run its course with the hope that the eventual agreement reached by Google and PRS will set the standard for future royalties.
The second possibility is for a statutory rate to be set by the government. While this option is less savory in terms of free market principles, it would allow parties dealing with content to know up front what their terms would be, allowing things to run more smoothly. In the end, we should not forget that the primary goal of copyright law is to benefit the public and, if our laws are not functioning in a way that makes that happen, they should be amended.
-- Steven Reilly
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