Indie Music Labels Set to File Complaint Over YouTube's 'Strong-Arm' Tactics

Radiohead guitarist Ed O'Brien has spoken out against YouTube's tactics.
Radiohead guitarist Ed O'Brien has spoken out against YouTube's tactics.
 Kevin Winter/Getty Images for Coachella

The industry body that represents independent music labels worldwide says it has had enough of YouTube's aggressive negotiating tactics and will bring its case to the European Commission for review.

The Worldwide Independent Network (WIN), which represents the interests of the global independent music community, says YouTube has been approaching independent labels directly with a template contract detailing how much they will be paid for rights, explicitly threatening that their content will be blocked on the platform if the agreement is not signed as is. 

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According to WIN members, the contracts currently on offer to independent labels from YouTube are highly unfavorable, with non-negotiable terms, and undervalue existing rates in the marketplace from music-streaming partners such as Spotify, Rdio, Deezer.

WIN represents hundreds of labels, including the homes to acts such as Adele, The White Stripes, Radiohead, Queens of the Stone Age, Vampire Weekend, The xx, M.I.A. and Grimes, among many others.

YouTube is expected to launch a new music streaming service soon and has apparently negotiated separate agreements with the three major labels -- Sony, Warner Bros. and Universal. But according to WIN, YouTube has attempted to cut out Merlin, the body that represents the independents in rights deals, and has approached the indie labels directly with terms they don't have the clout to contest alone.

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Alison Wenham, chief executive of WIN, told the Guardian newspaper Wednesday: "We have been hearing from many companies across the world who are expressing fear, displeasure, outrage and confusion at the phone calls, letters and bullying they seem to be receiving from YouTube employees."

A YouTube spokesperson responded, saying the site "provides a global platform for artists to connect with fans and generate revenue for their music," adding: "We have successful deals in place with hundreds of independent and major labels around the world, however we don't comment on ongoing negotiations."

Radiohead guitarist Ed O'Brien told the paper, "Indie artists and labels are at the cutting edge of the future of music. To restrict them in this way is to risk creating an internet just for the superstars and big businesses."

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