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Posted on Wednesday, December 24, 2014

A-List Artists Threaten YouTube With Billion-Dollar Lawsuit

Music industry juggernaut Irving Azoff, who manages music licensing for some of the biggest artists in the business, including Pharrell Williams, the Eagles, Van Halen, Steely Dan, and the late John Lennon, has threatened YouTube with a $1 billion copyright infringement lawsuit unless over 20,000 songs are taken down. Azoff says that the infringing content was created by about 40 of his artists, and that YouTube has made them available online without permission to do so.Azoff’s threatened lawsuit is just the latest instance of artists beginning to resist the streaming culture that makes music available to consumers for little or no compensation. Recently, Taylor Swift elected to remove her entire catalog of songs from the popular streaming radio provider Spotify, citing the disparity in artist compensation between streaming media and purchasing music through conventional means, such as CD.

Indeed, Pharell Williams, one of the leading plaintiffs in Azoff’s threatened lawsuit, is a prime example of why the culture of streaming media has so outraged artists of late. Williams’s 2014 hit song “Happy” has garnered over 525,000,000 YouTube views, for which Azoff alleges no license was purchased. Pandora, another streaming radio station similar to Spotify and the most-used streaming service on the market, did compensate Williams—to the tune of $2,700 for 43,000,000 plays, or just $60 for every million plays.

While streaming services have allowed unknown artists that may never have been discovered to make their music available to the masses, artists at the very top of the industry, including those represented by Azoff, have taken a large revenue hit as a result of exceedingly low per-play royalties and widespread unlicensed streaming of their work.

Azoff has ordered YouTube to pull down 20,000 songs by about 40 of his artists in order to avoid $1 billion in copyright infringement liability. Google, who owns the online streaming video giant, appears ready to go to court rather than give in to Azoff’s request, stating that the allegations are “misguided.” Given the popularity of Azoff’s artists’ music and Google’s ostensible refusal to back down, this is shaping up to be the biggest music-industry legal showdown since the illegal file-sharing litigation of the Napster days. Expect this large-scale development to shed some much-needed light on artist compensation in the world of streaming media, and possibly a tempering of the expectation that music should be available for free.

Frank Gulino is an award-winning composer and attorney with Berenzweig Leonard, LLP. He can be reached at FGulino@BerenzweigLaw.com,

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