An error message that appears on MTV.com's music video site if you click on Taio Cruz's Dynamite. Cruz's record label, Mercury Records, is part of the Universal Music Group, which pulled all of its videos from MTV's website today.
Last Thursday, when MTV premiered the brand new videos for Eminem's "Love The Way You Lie" and Kanye West's "Power" on a single night in an actual cable television broadcast, it seemed like a minor comeback for the network. On Friday, everybody watched the two videos online like a big premiere never happened. Today, MTV took an even bigger hit.
As of this morning, if you go to MTV.com and search for West, Eminem or dozens of other artists like Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber, you won't find their videos. The world's largest record label, Universal Music Group, pulled them from MTV's site after talks broke down over licensing agreements. According to Fast Company, UMG controls 25% of the global music market. (The conflict doesn't restrict MTV from playing the label's videos on its many cable networks.)
We realize music hasn't been the point for MTV in a number of years, but to fall behind while the experience of watching videos is moving to an online, on-demand model has to be a huge and embarrassing loss for MTV.
Now, if you look for Nicki Minaj's newest video on MTV.com, you're stuck watching her featured appearances on Usher's "Lil Freak." Her clip for "Your Love," one of the top videos in the country, lives on Vevo alone. Vevo is a YouTube channel run by Universal Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment, and Abu Dhabi Media Company. Its exclusive streaming attracts advertisers, who pay the labels. Thus far, Sony hasn't pulled its artists from MTV.com.
How many people are watching music videos on MTV.com? I have no idea, but I still watch, because until now MTV has offered comprehensive and credible coverage of artists. Sometimes I go to the "most popular" section of the videos, to see what people are watching. Without access to Lady Gaga or Eminem, that category is pretty meaningless. I have no reason now to go to MTV's site at all, since I don't cover reality television. It remains to be seen whether MTV will admit they also no longer cover music, and are a reality television resource only.
This brings to mind another lawsuit, which was only resolved a few weeks ago: Viacom versus Google, one billion dollars on the table. Viacom owns MTV, VH-1 and Comedy Central, among a whole bunch of other channels. They sued Google — for our purposes, that means YouTube, for copyright violations, under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Google won.
The 1998 DMCA requires, in part, that if owners of sites like YouTube have "specific knowledge" of a copyright violation occurring on their site, then it's their job to remove that content. Web sites are not, however, required to scour their content in search of potential copyright violations.
Just because a given alley is dark and deserted, and there's probably sketchy things going down, doesn't mean you should park a squad car in every alley just in case. We've all got better things to do. Apparently Universal Music Group — the copyright holder on the yanked videos — doesn't. Some poor sap, or saps, does seem to spend the day making sure no Bieber footage ends up in an unauthorized place. Vevo only.
As long as these various content providers and content distributors continue to battle for who has the rights to stream what, we'll probably continue to watch videos for free. Being in a constant state of war over content distribution is good for consumers. MTV arguing with UMG: in my view, it's what's staving off the inevitable pay wall future. Now that you can only see Lady Gaga on Vevo, my concern is, how far off are we from UMG setting up a pay wall in order to see "Telephone"?