Noted music artist manager Irving Azoff has written an open letter to YouTube in which he accuses the video service of paying artists “a pittance” and failing to care about music. He says that Taylor Swift ought to choose whether or not her music is streamed for free.

If music matters to YouTube, then why not give musicians the same choice you give yourselves? Taylor Swift should be able to decide which of her songs are available for free, and which are part of a paid subscription service. Or she should be able to opt out of YouTube if you won’t give her this choice.

Azoff’s letter, posted on Re/code, carries a great deal of weight, his impressive client list encompassing Christina Aguilera, the Eagles, Van Halen, Steely Dan, Maroon 5, Bon Jovi and more …


The letter was in response to a YouTube blog post in which the Google-owned company said that ‘musicians and songwriters matter [and] deserve to be compensated fairly’ and that it took copyright seriously. Azoff disagrees, accusing the company of protecting its own content but not that of musicians.

If YouTube valued music, then it would allow artists to have the same control which YouTube grants to itself. YouTube has created original programming. Those programs sit behind a “paid wall” and are not accessible for free unless YouTube decides to make them available that way. If a fan wants to watch the YouTube series “Sister-Zoned,” that fan has to subscribe to YouTube Red for $9.99 a month. But the same does not apply to music.

The lengthy letter argues that YouTube hides behind ‘safe harbor’ laws that mean it is not expected to prevent copyright breaches, only respond to takedown notices. Artists accept the small payments YouTube offers because they know they can’t prevent their music from appearing there.

YouTube has benefitted from the unfair advantage which safe harbors gives you: Labels can take the deals you offer or engage in an impossible, expensive game of “whack a mole,” while the music they control is still being exploited without any compensation.

This, he suggests, is why Spotify and Apple Music are ‘better partners’ to music creators.

Photo: Reuters/Kevork Djansezian. An earlier version of this piece incorrectly described Azoff as Swift’s manager.

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