In a move to balance the needs of music copyright holders and its content-generating users, YouTube on Wednesday said it's offering more options to users who violate copyrights. The result is hundreds of videos without sound.
The move seems to be in response to a Warner Music Group demand in December that YouTube cut off access to videos that contain Warner music. The demand came after negotiations on licensing agreements stalled.
At that time, YouTube warned users that they "may notice videos that contain music owned by Warner Music Group being blocked from the site." YouTube is no longer threatening. It has moved to block the music content while trying to appease users. Many users, however, are up in arms about the change.
Previously, when a music label or other rights owner issued a copyright claim to block audio, YouTube automatically took the video down. Uploaders had two choices: dispute the claim -- in the case of fair use, for example -- or use YouTube's AudioSwap tool to replace the track with one from a library of approved music.
"Music licensing can get very complicated, but we try to make your experience as simple as possible," YouTube's blog said. "We want you to have options when uploading videos with music in them. And if your video is subject to a copyright claim, you should have some choices, too."
YouTube has been fingerprinting audio tracks and informing users when they infringe on copyrights. The copyright owner got the option of having the video removed or letting it stay up along with revenue-generating ads.
Now instead of a video being removed, users have an option to modify the video by removing the disputed music and posting a new version. YouTube reports that many of its users are taking that option.
"Our content-management tools have revolutionized the ways in which users and content owners are distributing, marketing and making money from video online," YouTube said. "As we continue to build out this system, we are working to find the right balance between encouraging creativity and free expression and respecting the rights of copyright holders and the law."
YouTube Users Angry
But some YouTube members aren't thrilled with the option. A user named KariWolf wrote on YouTube's blog, "Okay, so YouTube is going to suck more now. First they put ads on a bunch of good music videos ... They already were horrible at deleting the right videos, deleting videos that did nothing wrong. And while all that goes on, they leave videos that should be deleted, alive. Now this ..."
Other YouTube members are calling for a boycott of the music industry. "We can't stand by silently while the music industry continues its decades-long effort to lock up our culture!" a user named HispanicImpression wrote on the blog. "Only buy audio CDs secondhand from now on ... Don't download from online music stores anymore. Support self-marketing bands. Spread this message here on every muted video you encounter."
But according to Phil Leigh, a senior analyst at Inside Digital Media, YouTube's move was inevitable. "The copyright has to be respected. The people that have been putting stuff up on YouTube and not respecting copyrights don't have much of a basis for complaints. Sites like YouTube will continue to take steps to honor copyrights in every way they can."