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Irving Azoff Jumps Into YouTube War: ‘On This We Are United’

The war of words against YouTube continues, and the famously outspoken artist manager Irving Azoff is not backing down.

The war of words against YouTube continues, and the famously outspoken artist manager Irving Azoff is not backing down. Less than a week after Azoff spoke to Billboard about how he views YouTube’s place in music’s economic ecosystem — calling the video platform “a system that’s rigged against the artists” — the executive has penned a scathing op-ed for the tech site Recode.

Azoff presents a point-by-point response to comments made in an op-ed posted Apr. 28 by Christophe Muller, YouTube’s director of global music partnerships, for The Guardian. In that piece, Muller argued that “no other platform gives as much money back to creators — big and small — across all kinds of content” and that the vast majority (99.5 percent) of copyright claims on the site are handled through its own Content ID system and not the “whack-a-mole” solution that safe harbor statutes create. Muller also compared YouTube to broadcast radio, saying both delivery systems rely on advertising.

Azoff asserts that the licenses granted YouTube by labels and publishers were signed under a sneaky form of duress: “YouTube has benefitted from the unfair advantage which safe harbors [sic] gives you: Labels can take the deals you offer or engage in an impossible, expensive game of ‘whack a mole,'” he writes, “while the music they control is still being exploited without any compensation. Spotify and Apple don’t have that advantage, and this is why they are better partners to music creators.” As Billboard  contributor Robert Levine wrote last week: “Instead of ­selling the rights to music that a service needs, label ­executives say they’re stuck selling the rights to music that a service essentially already has.”

Azoff is joined in his criticism today by Frances Moore, CEO of the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI), who has issued her own point-by-point response to the same issues. Moore writes that “YouTube is not like a radio service. It is the streaming service of choice for the largest on-demand audience in the world… claims it is able to take advantage of so-called ‘safe harbours’ to negotiate licences. This is the fundamental market distortion that gives YouTube an unfair advantage over licensed services and devalues music.” She also chides the platform for opaque accounting on the $3 billion in royalties it touts as having paid out, calling the figure “a very small fraction — some two percent — of industry revenues since 2008.”

“The situation is grossly unfair and that is why policy makers and legislators need to act,” Moore concludes.

YouTube did not immediately return a request for a response to Azoff and Moore’s comments.