Because the world’s biggest internet search company, which mostly makes money through advertising, being able to plop its own video content into relevant search results is a clear abuse of monopoly power. YouTube’s dominance in music can be seen in how it’s currently the primary way one looks for and discovers music videos. Vevo, the major label-backed music streaming platform, was certainly never perfect, as I wrote about last year
in the early 2000s, prior to YouTube, there were numerous viable sites that streamed music videos and there was even the novel concept of websites having their own video players. Many of those other video players weren’t great but in hindsight that feels closer to momentary technological limitations rather than due to YouTube simply being the best,
the only option available. Instead, YouTube was bought by Google in 2006 and continued to lose money until it was able to effectively become the internet’s default video sharing platform. I’ll stop here before I get too deep into YouTube’s broader issue as a platform.
What appears in search isn’t often the primary concern that record industry workers express with YouTube. Rather, the worries around YouTube are well articulated in a 2018 letter written by the Future of Music Coalition
and sent to the Federal Trade Commission. The letter covers numerous monopolistic abuses that YouTube committed over the last decade, especially in regard to its intentionally obtuse artist payment system. This is despite the fact that YouTube is, by sheer watch time, the most used music streaming platform worldwide, yet it doesn’t pay out artists/labels as much as Spotify. In particular, YouTube is shielded by section 512 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (“DMCA”), which offers it protection from copyrighted content on its platform as long as it makes an effort to remove said content once notified.
I say this to highlight that, from a regulatory perspective, there’s still quite a bit of fertile ground for improvement. Although organizations and musicians do voice their issues with YouTube, the broader industry conversation, at least from record labels, centered on the “value gap” and how poorly artists are compensated. Again, while certainly true, reading the FMC letter reveals how the monopoly that Google holds over video streaming shouldn’t be so narrowly defined to a perceived lack of money flowing to artists. YouTube’s current position in many ways limits what online music and video content could be right now.