June 29, 2016
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – Working musicians already have a tough time making a living, but at a Local 802 panel discussion held this week, noted Jazz guitarist Marc Ribot blasted YouTube — the multi-billion dollar video sharing platform that took the world by storm in 2005 — with acting like “black marketeers” who actively exploit hard-pressed artists.
“YouTube makes money selling ads on content,” the artist and intellectual property rights activist said. “They don’t care if that content is there with your permission or not.”
Recording artists across the musical spectrum are becoming increasingly vocal in their criticism of business models which allow online users to access content for free with little or no compensation ever reaching those responsible for creating the work.
“If they were giving cars away for free the auto industry would crash,” Ribot said.
YouTube and other music sharing platforms including Spotify do offer ways for artists to protect their work — but many argue that the impossible burden of enforcing copyrighted material rests too heavily on the artists themselves, while the compensation they receive through licensing agreements are paltry at best.
“Everything on YouTube is free,” bandleader Sherrie Maricle said.
Ribot’s music career spans 35 years and includes 20 albums. He’s worked with musical luminaries from Chuck Berry to The Black Keys. But, according to the guitarist, a licensing agreement with Spotify earned him just $250.
“That is not sustainable,” Ribot said. “This is a systemic problem. If we’re running up the down escalator we’re in trouble.”
Ribot and other critics insist that existing legislation including the Digital Millennium Copyright Act must be reformed if musicians are to survive.
“Copyright law is a patchwork out of step with technology,” said Ben Allison, bassist and vice-president of National Academy of recording Arts and Sciences, NY Chapter.
Allison argued for performing rights in front of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce back in 2012 and has continued to press for a system of parity that fairly compensates artists across a variety of platforms.
“Congress is looking at copyright law now,” Allison said. “Copyright law is revisited once a generation — this is it right now.”
With the recording industry in its current state of disarray, veteran musicians and advocates are urging emerging artists to add copyright activism to their repertoire.
“If we don’t push back in a significant way, we’re in big trouble,” Ribot said.
YouTube has not responded to requests for comment.