August 17, 2011 at 4:05 pm

Music Publishers Resolve Massive Copyright Dispute with YouTube

Music publishers — including songwriters and companies that buy their publishing rights — reached a resolution with Google’s YouTube site on Wednesday, and will begin receiving royalties under a new licensing scheme.

This deal between YouTube and the National Music Publishers Association (NMPA) ends litigation that began in 2007, and means that the music will continue to play on YouTube — arguably the most popular music service in the world.

“We are pleased to have resolved NMPA’s litigation claims and to work with YouTube in providing a new licensing opportunity for songwriters and publishers,” said NMPA president and CEO David Israelite. “This is a positive conclusion for all parties and one that recognizes and compensates the work of songwriters and publishers going forward.”

This deal is a little bit “inside baseball,” because it concerns a copyright most people aren’t familiar with, but it affects most music fans. YouTube is the place where we go to hear what something sounds like in seconds now, having replaced Myspace.

Without this agreement, much of the music on YouTube could have disappeared, which would have been a huge blow to the music community. Approximately 40 percent of all YouTube visitors play a song on the site at least once per month — more than they watch any other type of video — and eight of the top ten most popular clips ever to appear on the site are music videos.

Every time a song is created, the person or people who made it gain certain rights automatically — so, really, there’s no such thing as “uncopyrighted music.” One of those rights is the synchronization right, which lets someone combine audio with video. Unlike other copyrights, like the one that lets Pandora or an FM radio station broadcast a song, there’s no compulsory license for synchronization, meaning that every single time music accompanies video, the creator needs to make a new deal with whoever owns the publishing rights (songwriters and publishers) and the sound recording rights (recording artists and labels).

YouTube needed a bespoke blanket license covering not only official music videos, but also instances where people upload their own video or even an image to accompany a song on YouTube. And now, that’s what it has.

As such, YouTube can continue to function as the world’s biggest free, on-demand music service. Google argues that free music can pay as well as paid music. Now, it will do so for songwriters and music publishers too.