Lyor Cohen, YouTube’s global head of music, is the latest YouTube executive to publish an ominous forewarning about the European Union’s controversial Copyright Directive and the effect it will have on the music community.
“Let me be clear: we understand and support the intent of Article 13. We need effective ways for copyright holders to protect their content,” Cohen wrote. “But we believe that the current proposal will create severe unintended consequences for the whole industry. We still have a couple of weeks to work together towards a better final version of the law. The music industry should really pay attention to these unintended consequences - the system that largely contributes to their success is at risk of major change in the European Union.”
Cohen published a newsletter today talking to Shots Studios founder John Shahidi about the Copyright Directive, specifically Article 13. Article 13 is effectively a heftier copyright filter that will make it difficult for creators to borrow content and remix it. Unlike current safe harbor rules that put the onus of copyright infringement on the creator of the video, the EU’s new copyright directive would make YouTube solely responsible for ensuring copyright-protected material wasn’t infringed upon. YouTube’s creator community, and the company itself, would be hit pretty hard by the directive if it’s voted in this upcoming January.
That’s why Cohen, alongside CEO Susan Wojcicki and head of business Robert Kyncl, have published blog posts asking creators to band together and pressure the EU into not passing the directive. Cohen’s blog post addresses musicians and fan video creators specifically, digging into the importance of remix culture to YouTube’s global audience. Cohen added that while he supports the overall message of Article 13, ignoring music’s changing landscape on a platform like YouTube is detrimental to the industry.
“Remixes and covers, tutorials, fan tributes, parodies — these are such powerful promotional tools for the industry,” Cohen wrote. “Don’t get me wrong: I’m all in favor of protecting artists rights and compensating them fairly — I’ve been fighting for this for 38 years — but we should all realize that nurturing these kind of relationships with fans and creators is one of the best things that has happened to music.”
“These are such powerful promotional tools for the industry.”
The relationship between creators who remix copyrighted songs and studios is tense, but YouTube does evaluate the new piece based on how transformative it seems. Fair Use allows independent creators to upload parodies of songs or completely new remixes without being penalized for copyright infringement. Creators may not be able to monetize their videos, but their content doesn’t disappear. Cohen warned that could change.
“Everyone is in love with likes and emoji’s,” Cohen wrote. “They call it engagement. Why aren’t they thinking of fan videos the same way? A fan making a video for you is the highest form of engagement - it’s a tribute! One important thing we are focusing on is building tools to make these collaborations simpler. It’s too complicated right now.”
The music industry in Europe is one of the more outspoken supporters of the EU’s Copyright Directive. Paul McCartney and more than 1,300 other members of the recording arts community published an open letter earlier this year asking the EU to back proposed changes to the directive.
“Some user upload content platforms refuse to compensate artists.”
“We need an internet that is fair and sustainable for all,” McCartney wrote. “But today some user upload content platforms refuse to compensate artists and all music creators fairly for their work, while they exploit it for their own profit.”
The music industry has always fought with platforms, including YouTube, over copyright concerns and fair pay. It’s an area where YouTube has tried to assuage complaints by investing more than $60 million into content ID software. Still, Cohen argues that not working with fans and communities on allowing transformative tributes to exist on sites like YouTube does a disservice to both the artist and community.
Cohen ends his newsletter with a call to creators to research Article 13 and use their voices to speak out against it. YouTube recently launched a standalone website dedicated to informing people about Article 13, and it’s hosting videos from popular creators who have talked about the issue on their channel. The company’s Twitter account has also become more aggressive about the directive, tweeting about its possible effect on the creator community.