Why Full Albums Need to Go from YouTube Right Away

YouTube has long been the digital music anomaly: hugely successful, almost free of criticism but with a pitifully small pay-per-stream rate (below half that of Spotify, who does get criticism, and some).  YouTube is now on the verge of launching a subscription product and this will hopefully go some way of addressing the fact it has made the marketing journey the consumption destination.  But the music industry should keep its aspirations in check, not just about the potential impact of the service, but also – and perhaps most importantly – because of YouTube’s intent.

Google is a rights frenemy.  Rights frenemies strike a careful balance between maintaining good relations with rights holders on one side of their business but testing the limits on the other side. They pursue a do first, ask forgiveness later strategy.  Thus all the while Google is launching two music subscription services (Google Play Music All Access and the forthcoming YouTube offering) it is also lobbying for copyright reform and posting a link to chillingeffects.org for every successful copyright takedown.  In other words Google talks the talk but only reluctantly so and it does the absolute minimum of walking the walk.

Nowhere is this approach more apparent in YouTube and the presence of user uploaded ‘full albums’.   A coherent argument can be made that 383 million views of Miley Cyrus’s ‘Wrecking Ball’ Vevo video delivered clear benefits to the artist and her team (both though direct Vevo advertising and the vast exposure).  Full length albums ripped into YouTube by users have no such benefit.  In fact labels in the main do what they can to remove them using YouTube’s takedown process.  If Google was a rights ally rather than a rights frenemy it wouldn’t solely wait to be told to take stuff down, at least for the really obvious and high profile stuff, but it doesn’t.


Take a look at these top search results for Adele, U2, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and the Beatles (see figure 1).  The full album results are high lighted in red, many of which have hundreds of thousands of views each, in the case of Adele’s ‘21’ it is more than 1 million, and some have been live for more than a year.  In the case of the Beatles all of the top results are full albums.  I doubt that the Beatles spent the best part of a decade not licensing to iTunes in order to suddenly throw it all straight up on YouTube.


There are also endless ripped live DVDs and recorded TV broadcasts of live concerts (see figure 2). It’s pretty hard to see why somebody would want to buy a live DVD of a U2 show when they can get the entire show in 1080p HD on YouTube.  And of course because it is a continual 2 hours and 22 minutes of video the viewing experience will be virtually ad free, save for a 30 second pre-roll and the odd pop up which can easily be clicked off.  The only winner here in business terms is YouTube.

Not all the blame can be laid at Google’s feet though: these examples were found immediately, with no effort, so it is inconceivable that someone somewhere in each of the respective labels doesn’t also know about this.  Thus someone has taken the decision in some of these instances to take the benefit of the ‘exposure’ in return for cannibalizing sales of the exact same music the exposure is supposed to drive sales of.  It is this conflicted view of YouTube (i.e. ‘we couldn’t sell as much music without it even though we lose sales because of it) that needs to be fixed.  Google can hardly be blamed for having a schizophrenic approach to the music industry if the industry does exactly the same back.

But relationship issues notwithstanding, full albums need to disappear from YouTube right now. They need to do so if for no other reason than to level the playing field for those music services that pay back at higher rates to rights owners and that actually try to get consumers to pay for music.  Labels and Google, bang your respective heads together!

44 thoughts on “Why Full Albums Need to Go from YouTube Right Away

  1. When an artist or label sees an album of theirs on Youtube, why can’t they request to be paid for those clips? Instead of going through the take down process, Youtube/Google should have a request for fees process where an artist/label requests fees for an unauthorized upload of an album/concert. Seems to me that if a clip is garnering hundreds of thousands of views you would want to keep the momentum going instead of cutting off your fan base or potential fan base and saying “please buy our overpriced physical product”. The hard core fan will still buy the product and still watch the concert on You Tube on his smartphone, at work, etc etc. The artists wins. It always makes me laugh when I see someone saying that a YouTube view or a stream is a lost sale of a physical product. Chances are without that stream or YouTube clip the person watching or listening never would have bought a CD/DVD without sampling it first. Why stifle that?

  2. “YouTube has long been the digital music anomaly: hugely successful, almost free of criticism…”
    Mark, YouTube is a certified by labels, master pirate boat of the music piracy with main purpose to kill all other pirates in the music sea!
    Acidic and desperate idea from Universal to vacuum all piracy into one location and live happily after from advertising breadcrumbs of master pirate.
    I am curious if Google executives required medical attention after they have been approached with Veevoo proposal.
    My guts would not survive holding the laugh.

    YouTube on different game board can generate 20 billions in music sales.
    It can serve as efficient “copy rights registrar” and become the biggest label in 24 months.
    Artists should have a right to switch from ad support to iTune style sale at 25K, 50K or 100K. This choice should be available at the moment you post your work.

  3. To address what Mark’s post is actually about, I wonder if part of the problem is in the Content ID system? If an artist/manager/label has a general policy of monetising YouTube videos under Content ID, then they may authorise a ‘full album’ upload without realising what they are doing. I don’t know in detail how Content ID works, but it wouldn’t surprise me if authorisation (or the reverse) was often given in general terms rather than case-by-case. Otherwise, for a popular artist who might generate hundreds of uploads every day (over 5,000 for Justin Bieber in the last 24 hours) it would be very burdensome to review each one. So authorisation might be given in blanket terns. But that doesn’t explain cases like the Beatles. Someone must be asleep on the job.

  4. David – interesting point re: content ID being to blame. I know that there are a bunch of smaller labels and DIY artists who earn decent money form tracks they’ve authorised via content ID but I’ve not come across any that have OK-ed full albums. May well be happening though. In these specific cases though three are major label artists, two Universal and one Warners, companies with a focus on the bigger picture rather than quick wins.

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  9. It depends. How many younger people would have experienced the brilliance of rock/blues guitarist if they hadn’t listened to huge amounts of his music on Youtube? Jimi Hendrix was asked “How does it feel to be the world’s greatest guitarist?” He said, “I don’t know, you’ll have to ask Rory Gallagher.” That’s the respect that the man commanded and by having his music on Youtube his name lives on.

    Same goes for Link Wray and probably many others from the past that would have been forgot. I would NEVER experienced the crushing emotionality of Johnny Cash’s version of “Hurt” had it not been for Youtube.

    So lets not throw out the baby with the bathwater!

  10. that should have been “experienced the brilliance of rock/blues guitarist Rory Gallager”. That’s what I get for rushing!

  11. I am with you 100% on YouTube as a fantastic discovery platform. YouTube is essentially the Delphi Oracle for music – if it existed it is probably there. But that is very different from being a place where entire albums can be consumed with minimal revenue going back to artists and rights owners. In fact, removing full albums helps distinguish YouTube as a discovery platform rather than a consumption platform.

  12. Just to straighten out any uncertainty about the Content ID system… The system is good if youtube allow you on it. Most independent labels, certainly in the UK, have not been allowed on to the Content ID system. Most of the repertoire on Content ID is major label repertoire. This means that not only are there many thousands of unauthorised uses of an independent label’s repertoire but the label finds its own uploads regularly disabled for monetisation while they are often threatened with heavier penalties. It is an increasingly frustrating issue particularly now that youtube is positioned as potentially the biggest streaming platform on the planet. Fair trading it certainly isn’t.

  13. Hi Mark

    I’m not sure that there is actually a problem here. Content ID can block or monetise full album streams (even prevent them ever appearing). All the label or rights controller (distributor) has to do is upload a reference file and set a block policy. The reference file doesn’t even have to be the “full album”. Any track on the album can enable a block. You can even set a rule that would, for instance monetise anything up to 5 mins but block anything longer. All the tools to manage this are there.

    Actually we (Kudos) are planning to experiment with full album streams to see whether there might be a monetisation advantage. For instance we have discovered that YouTube can be a better monetisation platform than standard streaming services for very long tracks. A full album stream might retain a listener for a longer session allowing more adds to be served, so enhancing YouTube earnings per artist album (ie the listener sticks with OUR content rather than clicking off to someone else’s release). Longer listening sessions even help in terms of search optimisation. You can run more than one pre-roll during the album (you can specify at what point in the “video” the 2nd pre-roll starts so it falls between tracks.)

    The important thing to take away here is that its generally more beneficial for the label to create and control assets on YouTube then to rely solely on UGC income. You have more control over your own content, and as the videos a label delivers are “official” they stand to attract a better quality of ad. We treat YouTube as a steaming service and now deliver all our content as auto generated packshot videos.

  14. So what are the independent labels and anyone else in the indie/unsigned music business going to do about it?

    What’s in it for Youtube in blocking these indie labels?

    How can we make it in Youtube’s interest to allow indie labels on the content ID system?

  15. Hi Danny – interesting point about long song streams and the ability to monetize them. Are you talking extended length tracks or continuous mixes?

  16. In this context we are talking about experimenting with full album streams, This is on the back of having observed that some of our highest earning UGC income comes from our tracks being used in long continuous mixes. I’m not 100% convinced that its a strategy we will adopt wholesale, but its certainly one worth examining, especially if we can turn what is currently UGC income into partner channel income.

  17. Zen – you are quite wrong about Content ID system – EVERYONE is allowed on the CID system. The fact that it is rubbish, completely automated and any disputes take forever to resolve is another matter though

  18. Hi Chris. Everyone certainly isn’t allowed on to the Content ID system. In the last two presentations I attended by YouTube, both in the last two months (the New York office came to Google Campus and presented to AIM, the UK’s indie trade body, and the YouTube UK team made a presentation at the last BPI Indie Meeting – both meetings were entirely filled with independent labels in the UK who have not been allowed onto the Content ID system and rather than become a celebration of all that may be good about Content ID the meetings became gripes and moans from the independent sector. Both trade bodies are now in contact with YouTube to try to find a resolution.
    Meanwhile there remain hundreds and probably thousands of unauthorised uses of my company’s repertoire all over youtube while many of my own uploads are being disabled because they treat us like they would someone with a cat on a skateboard.

  19. Zen – I was at the BPI meeting and I know my companies music is on Content ID and I’m an Indie. As I said its totally crap and the content ID really doesn’t work well but it’s a mistake to say no indies are able to use it.

  20. Hi Chris. I fear we may be hijacking Mark’s blog here, but let me clarify what I did say: “Most independent labels, certainly in the UK, have not been allowed on to the Content ID system”. I haven’t suggested that ‘no indies are able to use it’. So I’m really not making a mistake. If you were in that BPI meeting you were either the solitary bloke at the back who kept schtum while the rest of the room bemoaned their inability to join Content ID or you were one of the two youtube presenters. 🙂
    I thought their presentation was good.
    Back in September I attended a similar presentation at Google Campus for AIM. I met youtube’s head of music in New York Chris Potter after the meeting and he seemed genuinely surprised that Content ID isn’t available to everybody. (You are not THAT Chris, are you? :))
    Anyway, I may never know if it’s totally crap as you suggest, unless they permit me and others onto it. The system is clearly broken in that its staff seem blissfully unaware that most smaller labels are not allowed in. I think we’ll all be better able to judge it once we are allowed in.
    As far as Mark’s original post is concerned, likewise I won’t be able to form a truly informed opinion until that time. Meanwhile I have about half my catalogue uploaded to youtube as full album streams (separate tracks in an album ‘playlist’) and while the figures are low and the micro-payments or more micro than Spotify et al, it is earning more across the catalogue than the the other (non-Spotify) streaming platforms such as Deezer. I think once we are up on Content ID and then invoke some social networking/sharing/marketing it could become a relatively significant income stream. Notwithstanding the need to monitor the cannibalisation of download sales.

  21. Zen (and I take your point about not hijacking Mark’s blog) most of the guys who were complaining at the meeting at the BPI – were moaning about it favouring majors or it simply not being good enough. I don’t recall people saying they couldn’t get on it rather that it was absolute rubbish?

  22. remember all the home taping is killing music BS a few decades ago – this is basically the same thing- arguing against it is fighting the tide – so those full albums NEED to stay how does it make sense to actually remove them? They will just be shared through torrents and other means

    astute artistes realise that LIVE performance is once again the future of music

  23. I believe this explains best how the system works. If the rights holders wanted the material off, they could tell Google/YouTube ahead of time. Obviously, if they’re still up, the major players must be ok with this scenario over the alternative scenarios, in other words, real pirates (PirateBay, IsoHunt, SuprNova, Napster).

  24. The difference is that a majority of the full albums on YouTube are not there with permission of the rights owners. These are albums uploaded by users just the same as onto isohunt etc. And unless the content has been ID-ed by the rights owner they will not get paid for the plays. Content ID is a really smart way of Google locking in all this content it wouldn’t have been able to get by dangling dollars in front of rights owners who typically need every penny they can get. Yet many (most?) of the full albums haven’t been content ID-ed as they don’t have advertising running on them.

    So we have a double whammy: 1) the free service with (as yet) no premium tier has got full albums, making it harder for the paid services to compete, and 2) rights owners aren’t getting paid either. There’s only one winner: Google

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  26. To the people at chill effects.org if you have the
    Right guy i am pretty much illiterate to these devices ihave no idea what Icould have done but again I AM VERY TRULY SORRY .

  27. There must be stronger enforcement and penalties for violations. The burden is always on the rights holder to whack-a-mole and chase down infringers with DMCAs. It’s impossible to keep up with, an ineffective. There is no penalty to the infringer, and the material just gets uploaded again. In the meanwhile, the damage is already done since in that time the infringement by listeners and downloaders/rippers is already happening.

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  30. as someone who has paid my favorite artists over $1k in vinyl/tape/CD/VHS/DVD/iTunes purchases, I disagree. I discovered the Musi app & had no idea full albums were available on YouTube. To me, this is nothing short of an epiphany. I am recovering from burnout, have my queues of media I own that need to be digitized and this saves me a lot of work – I’m incredibly grateful to have the positive effect of listening to music from my younger years again – I have need to listen to enormous catalogs of music – I just want the convenience of listening to music I already own on my iPhone. Now mind you, I’ve discovered new albums (and even old albums) I haven’t listened to – you can count on me to purchase individual songs that manage to stick. I am also grateful I can preview them in full & in the context of the entire album (which is a lost art IMHO).

    Now I’m not saying everyone is in the same position as me (I’m decidedly in the minority) – I do think this is a matter of responsibity. You are correct, the Internet pushes limits – it is pushing the limits of how honest we can be as a society. What might life be like if we can all be trusted & not abuse the system? Or even if you are abusing the system now, that you will come to your senses later (or not) and no harm done?

    I firmly believe we should all explore these new paradigms of media. I won’t say we’ll get it perfect the first time around – I do believe we are capable of a depth of love for artists at levels we may not even be able to imagine.

    Let’s keep experimenting and see what happens!

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  32. Music is just sounds, sounds should be free…The industry had a good run in the 1900’s getting people to pay, but that scam is over. I am glad that we no longer have to pay for music. Whinging musos need to get a real job!

  33. This article is lame. Artists are traditionally poor for good reason. Oh boo-hoo Justin Bieber only made 55 million last year because of them mean youtuber pirates. :’-( Artists are better off making music in their garage studios (free of tyrannical production companies, who by-the-way are the real driving force behind this whine-fest) because then we appreciate those who offer real talent. The control of knowledge and who does or doesn’t have the right to read, see, view, or listen has been, and always will be, evil. Are you listening Google? Or should I address you as the Illuminati?

  34. This is a very interesting article. It is so ironic that Torrents have always been thought of as “the evil that killed the music and movie industry.” Yet, youtube streams more pirated user content then torrents could ever! YouTube is no different, yet the labels will go after a grandmother who’s grandchild decided to download a torrent of Jay-Z. WTF??????? I think the bottom line is, we are now living in an age where music is not valued anymore. Music has been freely shared for so long, that people feel they are entitled not to pay for it. Listening to music is NOT a right, it’s a privilege. But at the same time, I should have the right to be able to afford to listen to music. Maybe this is payback, for all that trillions of dollars the labels have made off of poor people, and this is a clear message that we can’t afford it anymore. I don’t know. The music industry has not only made a mess, but the solution is complicated, and the mindsets are complicated.

  35. Im not even going to read the article.
    first of all want to say that I only upload music wich is on bandcamp, so that is free. second, I always mention artists pages where they can buy the full album, third a lot of artists want to share their albums for support.
    So don`t make dumb articles before u no nothing.

  36. LOLOLOLOL —>>> @VCRchannel “So don’t make dumb articles before u no nothing.” yet he states that he chose not to read the article. Dude, I don’t know what planet you’re from, but somethings telling me that you’ve been braking the law for a very long time, and because you haven’t got caught, you assume you’re doing something right… LOLOL

  37. The labels are perfectly welcome to upload their own full album videos so they can benefit from those who prefer that format.

  38. Any progress on this issue?
    Do artists, labels, writers get paid even one penny for all these full albums uploaded without permission?

  39. Artist don’t get paid for ANY music videos on YouTube. Hence the reason they monetize, to try and recoup some monies they may have gotten had people been using streaming services. This is why I get to pissed when people keep picking on Spotify, and Google/YouTube get’s away with murder.. Big time… Artists need to redirect their energies and stop believing in all this hype shit..

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