Is Google’s upcoming foray into digital music good or bad for record labels, publishers, songwriters and performers? History tells us to expect pushback from copyright owners as well as an eventual agreement, but not everybody in the industry will feel a victory if the two sides find common ground.
Content is vital for many next generation digital services -- Edgar Bronfman Jr. of Warner Music Group said as much just last week. So it's natural the likes of Google would want to leverage content to further its core businesses of search as well as improve its young mobile operating system.
Attorney Chris Castle, who at his blog routinely details tech companies' dealings with copyright, takes a fairly dim view of Google's latest foray into music, a cloud-based service that is now in the works.
So far, Google's efforts at expanding into other business lines have not exactly been raving successes. And it is important to view its "Google Music" plans in this context. They need to do something (actually many somethings) to expand in order to continue the supernormal growth expectations built into the Google stock price.
Choosing music to do it in merely suggests that they may actually enjoy getting their asses kicked by Apple. Because the fundamental difference between Apple and Google is that Apple respects copyright, values its relationships with the creative community, and bends over backwards to cooperate with artists and film makers. This is the message that is loud and clear when you go to an Apple event. We get you, we like you, we respect what you do, please stay.
Google is the polar opposite. Google's message to artists is that we don't respect you, we definitely don't want to pay you, and we will litigate you into the ground by selling our stock and raising more litigation money than you could ever dream of spending.
At this point, there are only dots to connect. In June, The Wall Street Journal reported the service would be tied to the company's search engine -- which accounts for nearly all the company's revenue and profit -- and its Android operating system. The company hired attorney Elizabeth Moody a few weeks ago, a signal that the product is fleshed out to the point where licensing negotiations can begin.
The details of the service have not yet leaked to the public. Until those details are out in the open, the service's impact on copyright owners can't be properly debated. What is known at this point is they may have reason to be concerned. From YouTube-related lawsuits to the class action lawsuit brought by book publishers, Google has famously had numerous run-ins with copyright owners.
But it may not be that bad. Record labels and publishers have already come to grips with one Google service: YouTube. In fact, they love YouTube now that they have worked through their many tussles. YouTube has taken steps to prevent the uploading of copyrighted material. It provides value by being a substitute for a good amount of piracy. It offloads IT and network costs to Google. And Vevo wouldn't be Vevo without the power of YouTube to create 90% of the video network's views. The economics of streaming video might leave much to be desired, but that's the case for digital music in general.
As Castle points out, copyright owners will need to decide what's in their best interest. They'll need to decide what kind of partner Google will make. And they will need to consider any long-term implications that will follow the short-term joy of engaging music fans through the online world's most powerful company.