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YouTube Is Poised to Overtake Spotify as Music’s Biggest Bankroller

YouTube [has] our music, whether we choose to license them or not… They say they bring users into the licensed ecosystem, but at such a paltry return that they might as well be in the pirate world.” So spoke Martin Mills, co-founder and Chairman of Beggars Group — home to labels including XL Records, 4AD and Matador — in June 2017.

“YouTube’s growth for [our] business over the past couple of years has outpaced everyone as well as the market itself, and is now well on its way to deliver the potential of its huge audience to the music industry, as these revenue figures now show.” Those are the words of Mills in June 2021.

What a difference four years make.

For context, in 2017, Mills was taking a shot at YouTube’s “safe harbor” protections in Europe, which insulated the Alphabet-owned platform from legal endangerment at the time, even if open piracy was taking place on it. The European Parliament has since updated those laws to make YouTube theoretically liable for such activity — but, thanks to Brexit and wishy-washy “non-binding” implementation, they remain toothless in key markets such as the U.K. and Germany.

Why the stark difference in Mills’ attitude, then? It comes down to the strides YouTube has made to directly appease the record industry. YouTube launched a subscription music-streaming service in June 2018 to quench record labels’ criticisms of low payouts

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