Peter Kafka

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Licensing Killed the Video Star: Google Shuts Down All Music Clips in the U.K.

anarchy-in-the-ukAre you an American Web surfer who’s bummed out because you can’t see your favorite Madonna videos on YouTube? Then be thankful you don’t live in the U.K., where Google is taking all music videos down over a licensing dispute.

Google’s video site is taking down all “premium” music videos (read: basically everything except stuff you don’t want to hear) from its U.K. outpost because of a fight with that country’s Performing Rights Society, which collects royalties for songwriters.

Both sides have issued statements, but the short version is that Google (GOOG) says the songwriters’ group wanted too much money for the rights to stream the clips. Meanwhile the songwriters say they’re “shocked” that the clips are disappearing because they thought they were still negotiating.

This is basically the same version of the YouTube-Warner Music Group (WMG) fight that broke out late last year. Rights holders think Google is sitting on a pile of money but won’t share any of it when it uses their work. And Google is arguing that deals it agreed to in the halcyon days of 2006 don’t make any sense anymore, now that the company is more interested in making money than in fending off copyright suits.

This also underscores one of the headaches involved with Web video in general: The audience is world-wide, but licensing deals need to be made on a country-by-country basis. Which is why readers of this column who don’t live in the U.S. always complain whenever I embed a Hulu video–the joint venture between GE’s (GE) NBC and News Corp.’s (NWS) Fox needs to make different deals in different countries before it can show its stuff offshore. (News Corp. is the owner of Dow Jones, which owns this Web site.)

Now, a clip you won’t likely be able to see in the U.K. for much longer:


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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik