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YouTube’s Music Key Terms for Artists, Clarified

Finally, some conclusions to the confusion around YouTube Music Key.

Last week, cellist Zoe Keating — who has also become a part-time pundit on the issues of working as an independent musician in the digital business — posted on her blog that YouTube’s terms for participation in their Music Key “streaming” service were unacceptable to her, and also left her confused about where control of her music — which she holds full rights to — actually resides. YouTube and Music Key have had a bumpy ride in the public sphere, with the massive indie label organization Impala railing against the nature of their negotiations last summer, before reaching an agreement with indie label body Merlin in October. (Following Keating’s post and the coverage it generated, Impala this week released a ten-point plan to address her concerns at an international level.)


Billboard spoke to Keating this week in an attempt to get a better understanding of her experience negotiating with YouTube, as well her thoughts on the service’s contract terms, and a grassroots perspective the digital music landscape in general. She outlined a process that began in September, 2013, when YouTube first approached the artist about becoming a partner in its nascent Music Key product. (Music Key is, today, still in beta.) After a year-and-change of back-and-forth, YouTube gave Keating a take-it-or-leave contract, some terms of which were unacceptable to her. Some of the terms were also pretty hard to understand.

Keating told Billboard that she came away from her many talks with YouTube representatives (which she transcribed in order to keep straight, portions from which she shared with Billboard) with the understanding that, regardless of whether or not she signed the Music Key contract, her music would end up on Music Key, via users uploading their own videos featuring her music. This, YouTube tells Billboard, is not true. Essentially, as YouTube now explains it — following a public debate following Keating’s blog post — Keating has a relatively simple choice. She can sign the contract and allow YouTube and Music Key access to her entire catalog, along with the contract’s other provisions, allowing her to make money from its presence on the site. Or she can refuse the contract and leave her music unmonetized on YouTube. She will still retain control over her Content ID account, and can allow or block her music as she likes, YouTube explained.

To repeat: Keating’s music will not be included in Music Key if Keating does not wish it to be, according to YouTube.

YouTube also addressed Keating’s concerns over the “exclusivity” agreement in the contract she saw, that her music was required to appear on YouTube in tandem with any other service, cutting her off from releasing new music to Bandcamp first, where, she told us, she makes most of her money. YouTube tells Billboard that the contract asks for the same music that’s available on similar services, but that artists are also allowed to do exclusives and promotions with other services. This was news to Keating, who responded that she was “very happy to hear Youtube has changed that language in the contract, and I look forward to seeing it, since mine does not say that.”

These responses go against descriptions of the agreement presented to Keating (and transcribed by her) by YouTube previously, and presumably represent an update to the contract’s terms.

While YouTube’s negotiations and contracts may have been hard-line, or even unacceptable, to some participants — they were acceptable to the 30,000-plus labels that have agreements with Merlin — they are now, at least for Zoe Keating, not (as) confusing. Hopefully.