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YouTube Cover Songs Threatened by New Copyright Lawsuit

Plaintiffs say they're not being compensated for millions of plays of cover videos

The 'YouTube' logo on a tablet screen.
LIONEL BONAVENTURE/AFP/Getty Images
August 8, 2013 10:55 AM ET

YouTube notched a major victory when Viacom lost its landmark copyright infringement suit against Google last month, but suits involving the online-video giant keep rolling in. The New York Times is reporting a group of music publishers including Warner/Chappell are taking aim at Fullscreen, the company behind many of YouTube’s most popular videos.

According to its website, Fullscreen counts 2.5 billion monthly views, 15,000 YouTube channels, and 200 million subscribers, making it one of the largest multi-channel networks, or MCNs, that produces its own content. Their most-watched videos include unofficial covers of popular songs by artists like Lady Gaga, Britney Spears and Kanye West, which is where the plaintiffs – including Warner Music Group subsidiary Warner/Chappell, ironically itself the recent target of a copyright lawsuit regarding the song “Happy Birthday”– are finding fault with the company.

The plaintiffs allege that Fullscreen lacks the proper licenses to distribute these videos and as such is profiting from its YouTube views at the expense of the songwriters and their representatives, which are not being compensated. According to MusicWeek, National Music Publishers Association President and CEO David Israelite said, “Fullscreen’s success and growth as a digital business is attributable in large part to the prevalence and popularity of its unlicensed music videos. We must stop the trend of ignoring the law, profiting from someone else’s work, then asking for forgiveness when caught.” He added, “We must build a digital marketplace that can thrive and give music fans what they want, when they want it.”

In fact, such an agreement was reached between Universal Publishing, Fullscreen, and another MCN, Makers Studios, earlier this year. In what could be an example of Israelite’s desired functional business relationship between music publishers and MCNs, the companies in that case agreed to split advertising revenue from YouTube videos equally between them. An announcement on Tuesday suggested that this case between Fullscreen, Warner Music Group, and others arose from a breakdown in similar licensing negotiations, reports the Times.  

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