In the latest sign of friction over the licensing of online music, a group of music publishers has sued Fullscreen, one of the largest suppliers of videos to YouTube, saying that many of Fullscreen’s videos — particularly cover versions of popular songs ‚ infringe on the publishers’ copyrights.
Fullscreen is one of the largest of the multichannel networks, or MCNs, which produce their own content and represent the work of thousands of other creators of widely varying sizes. According to Fullscreen, the 15,000 channels the company represents have a total of 200 million subscribers and draw more than 2.5 billion views each month.
Among the most popular videos on YouTube are cover versions of popular songs, often by amateurs or semiprofessionals who have built a following online. But according to the suit, filed in U.S. District Court in New York on Tuesday by groups represented by the National Music Publishers Association, most of these lack the proper licenses and do not pay publishers and songwriters the royalties earned from ad revenue.
According to the suit, Fullscreen and its founder, George Strompolos, have willfully ignored their obligation to obtain licenses and pay royalties to exploit the vast majority of the musical content disseminated over Fullscreen’s networks.
The publishers represented in the suit include Warner/Chappell Music, which is owned by the Warner Music Group, along with several independents. An exhibit submitted with the suit lists dozens of songs that Fullscreen is accused of using without proper licenses.
As YouTube has become the default listening service for young people, the music industry has frequently sparred with YouTube and its owner, Google, over the licensing issues. YouTube, for example, is responsible for the licensing and royalties of user-generated content loaded directly to its system but often yields that responsibility to MCNs and other major partners.
In turn, those networks have come under fire from music groups, and negotiations have been slow. In February, Fullscreen and Maker Studios announced licensing deals with the Universal Music Publishing Group, but most others had no such deals.
An announcement Tuesday about the publishers’ suit against Fullscreen suggested that it had been prompted by a breakdown in licensing negotiations. At the same time that it announced the suit, the association said it had reached an agreement in principle with Maker Studios on licensing.