YouTube Threatened with $1 Billion Lawsuit over Song Licensing

YouTube Threatened with $1 Billion Lawsuit over Song Licensing
Google experienced some difficulties in securing licensing rights for its YouTube Music Key subscription service, and those difficulties persist. Music industry bigwig Irving Azoff owns the performance rights of around 20,000 songs through his Global Music Rights (GMR) company, and he's threatening YouTube with a $1 billion lawsuit.

The GMR catalogue includes songs by Pharrell Williams, John Lennon, the Eagles, Smokey Robinson, Chris Cornell and others. Many of these were previously handled by ASCAP and BMI, and were subject to blanket licences for services like YouTube.

Now that the songs are handled by GMR, Azoff is saying that YouTube hasn't properly licensed the songs from his company. He told the Hollywood Reporter that he is targeting YouTube — rather than other digital services — "Because they are the ones that have been least cooperative and the company our clients feel are the worst offenders. It's also their attitude."

But wait, there's a twist. It's actually possible that YouTube has a licence for these songs; since ASCAP and BMI sometimes issue multi-year licences, it's feasible that the old contracts are still binding. The trouble is that YouTube apparently hasn't provided any documentation to provide that it has valid licensing agreements to these songs.

YouTube has a standard takedown process that copyright holders can use to request that music be removed, but this requires copyright holders to provide URLs for the infringing files. GMR lawyer Howard King said, "It is disingenuous that they can keep their hands over eyes until we tell them the URL. They know where it is. We don't want this to become whack-a-mole."

GMR apparently doesn't want to go to court, but this may happen if YouTube isn't willing to cooperate. And while it's difficult for outsiders to know who is in the right in this situation, it's worth pointing out that this isn't the first time that YouTube has been accused of taking a poor approach to music licensing.