The YouTube ecosystem is steadily building up, but a lawsuit filed today against multi-channel network Fullscreen Inc. serves as a reminder that the online video industry is still figuring things out.
The National Music Publishers' Association, a trade group based in Washington, D.C., brought a copyright infringement claim against Culver City's Fullscreen, alleging that the company's YouTube artists used unlicensed music in their online videos.
The issue, NMPA said in its filing, is that Fullscreen generates revenue through advertising from the videos and hasn't paid royalties to those artists and music publishers.
"The problem of copyright infringement and unlicensed use of music is endemic to the MCN industry," David Israelite, NMPA president and chief executive, said in a statement. "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 forgiveness when caught. It is not only unfair, it is unacceptable."
A Fullscreen spokeswoman declined to comment on the lawsuit.
NMPA brought a similar suit against Maker Studios, also in Culver City. According to NMPA, the two have settled and Maker has agreed to compensate publishers and songwriters for past infringements and license music in the future.
The trade group appears to be looking for a similar result from its lawsuit against Fullscreen, which includes plaintiffs Warner/Chappell, the publishing arm of Warner Music Group, and Songs Music Publishing.
The use of music in YouTube videos has been a problem ever since amateur videographers began to make money from their videos.
YouTube and its networks have been making strides to comply with copyright law. The Google-owned video platform has licensing agreements with many music publishers, but those agreements don't extend to YouTube networks. Instead, Maker and Fullscreen struck licensing deals of their own with Universal Music Publishing Group in February.
Brandon Martinez, chief executive of New York YouTube music network IndMusic, said that the ecosystem has built up so quickly that some of this infrastructure has been overlooked. But that doesn't mean that the multi-channel networks aren't responsible for helping artists comply with copyright law.
"This is new for everybody," said Martinez, who also represents artists – such as the musician behind the meme-worthy "Harlem Shake" – whose work is used online. "It's about establishing rules and guidelines that should be followed. Without those, people profit off of other people's material."