Today if you want to hear a particular song online, the easiest way to do that is to go to Youtube, search for the song, and play it. The results are free and immediate.
This is great for Youtube’s business model but it’s bad for the musicians, because those musicians didn’t always give permission for those songs to be there in the first place! Youtube can do a lot better in making this situation fair for everyone.
Youtube to most people is where you find video online. That drives traffic and therefore makes Google money. So when people are going to Youtube to find videos that infringe on copyrights, Google is profiting from that infringement.
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s Safe Harbor provisions give Google an out. The requirements placed on websites seeking safe harbor were celebrated at the time by the content industries, representing copyright holders.
But Youtube is really a special case. Google knows that they’re making money from this, so while they do seek to work with copyright holders to share the proceeds, they could do more, and do so without being bullies. Says Billboard:
Although YouTube uses software to identify uploaded material that infringes copyright — which the law does not require it to do — it doesn’t catch everything. Faced with the possibility of issuing an endless stream of takedown notices, most rightsholders choose to strike deals – even if they’re not as good as they’d like.
The safe harbor provisions are reasonable, and good. However Google can do better, and treat people fairly who are making them a lot of money. I hope industry can fix this, since any attempt to legislate this would be a terrible mess.