Google Heckled at MIDEM Over YouTube Ripping & Piracy

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A Midem panel at the weekend resulted in an awkward few minutes for YouTube's Content Vice President. After an audience member asked Tom Pickett to explain why nothing is being done about YouTube to MP3 ripping sites, a light-hearted moment and resulting laughter only served to further raise temperatures.

youtubeA panel at the weekend at what might yet turn out to be the very last Midem, discussed the importance of online video.

“In the golden days of cable TV, music channels killed the radio stars. Now YouTube is the first stop for music consumption among Gen Y. So are you ready to align your strategy with the rules of online video?” the panel asked.

Speakers on the 36 minute slot included Tom Pickett, VP, YouTube Content, Geoff Taylor, Chief Executive of the BPI, Jordan Berliant of The Collective Music Group and Brandon Martinez, Co-Founder & CEO of INDMUSIC. It took quite a while but the topic of unauthorized content eventually raised its head.

It began when the audience was asked for questions, with a man taking to the mic to point out that it is very easy to rip music from YouTube videos

“If you go on Google and just simply put YouTube MP3 the top result is a website where you can put in any YouTube url and take a track straightaway,” the man explained.


“I just wondered what plans in the future Google have in place to just get rid of that because you seem to be able to change ranks of websites daily, but you can’t stop sites showing that allow free downloads.”

The point struck a note with the audience, who clapped in response.

“Certainly, on the Google search side we’re constantly trying to rank appropriately,” Google’s Tom Pickett responded. “Google search is a reflection of what’s out there on the web. I think what you find in this phenomenon is some sites go down, new ones come up, and so it’s a game of whac-a-mole.”

At this point Pickett was interrupted by the audience member. Having started off criticizing Google, he then admitted that he was possibly one of the oldest users of the ripping site in question.

“I’ve been downloading from this website for three or four or five years now so…this one’s been around a long time,” he said.

Appearing to forget that they were supporting someone who just moments previously had admitted to being part of the problem, the audience joined in with applause to underline Google’s inaction.

“You know you’ve made it when you start getting heckled,” Pickett was told by a panel member. He laughed in response but did not answer the question. That didn’t go down well with a new audience member who had just stepped up to the mic.

“I’m going to help [the previous guy] out here. There’s talk that this is the last Midem. OK, that’s how serious this is and you’re laughing off the fact that your own company makes it possible for people to steal our music,” the clearly angry man said while pointing at Pickett.

“There’s a YouTube downloader that you do nothing about with your logo on it – PLEASE SPEAK! You’re at a music festival, potentially the last music festival of its type. Right, you know what’s happening – please talk to us and tell us what you’re really going to do about it!” the man said.

Pleading with Google to do something about ripping


“There are plenty of sites out there that offer views, some of them are legit, some of them are not legit and frankly it’s actually hard to tell as a user, as a creator,” Pickett responded.

“We are investing a lot in trying to detect [problems]. The big thing on YouTube is that the view count is the currency and we take that very seriously and so we’re getting better and better over time about detecting bad views, bad actors out there, and we’re doing everything we can to get rid of them or discount those views on YouTube.”

If either audience member thought they were going to get a straight answer from Pickett on the issue of stream ripping, they were going home disappointed. Enter stage right, Geoff Taylor of the BPI.

“Ive got a bit of sympathy for the comments made from the floor because we’ve been asking YouTube to deal with these stream-rippers and applications for many years,” Taylor said.

“The point is that Youtube is supposed to be an ad-funded streaming service, not a free download service,” he added, to applause from the audience.

“I don’t think it’s good for YouTube’s business model that those sites free ride on what YouTube is offering and we can’t understand why it’s taken so long for Google and YouTube to do something about this.”

And that inaction, Taylor said, is mirrored by Google’s apparent reluctance to do something about that other music industry gripe – prominent placement of unauthorized sites in search engine listings.

This friction between Google and the music industry is clearly going to run and run. The question is, who will give first?


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