Independent record labels criticise YouTube over new ad-free music service

Independent record labels have complained to the European Commission over YouTube's "strong-arm" tactics as they attempt to sign labels up to a rumoured ad-free subscription service.

The unconfirmed platform, which would go up against the likes of Spotify and Deezer, has been reported since a section of code was discovered in the YouTube app, referring to a new service called "Music Pass". While the Google-owned company was unwilling to comment on recent speculation, a spokesperson said, "YouTube provides a global platform for artists to connect with fans and generate revenue for their music, paying out hundreds of millions of dollars to the music industry each year."

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Impala, a body representing Europe's independent labels, and a number of high profile musicians such as Billy Bragg and Radiohead's Ed O'Brien have criticised the company's attempts to force record labels into accepting low rates. They claim that they are being presented with non-negotiable contracts and the threat that their music videos will be blocked if they do not sign up to the terms.

Singer Billy Bragg said YouTube was "in danger of launching a streaming service that lacks the innovative and cutting-edge sounds that independent artists bring."

Some of the world's biggest acts including Adele, Jack White and Arctic Monkeys risk being excluded from the service as YouTube goes head to head with some of the larger independent labels such as Domino, XL Recordings and 4AD.

Chris Cooke, business editor at Complete Music Update, also claims that YouTube has the potential to disrupt other music subscription services that already pay higher fees to the record labels.

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"YouTube already pays what are probably the lowest rates in the business for music labels' videos," he said. "The majors and independents agreed to that because YouTube isn't just a revenue stream, it's one of the most important promotional platforms in music today." The latest development comes with the threat of withdrawing this platform if labels do not sign up to the new service.

It remains to be seen how this news will affect Google's own music subscription service, Google Play Music All Areas, which the company launched last year.