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LYOR, YOUTUBE,
THEN AND NOW

In the wake of news that Warner Music has signed a short-term renewal of its deal with YouTube—and that it wasn’t particularly thrilled about it—YouTube’s Global Head of Music, Lyor Cohen, was interviewed by Re/Code.

“I was surprised,” Cohen told the publication’s Peter Kafka about the wary tone of the leaked post-deal memo from WMG’s Steve Cooper, “because it’s not been the context or the tenor of the negotiations. I’ve been in the bunker with them, and I’ve been really impressed with how Steve and his team have been thinking about it. This deal is centered around their vision of helping us build a subscription business. And them encouraging us building the advertising business.”

You can read the rest of that interview—which, if sprinkled on your lawn, might cause flowers to grow—here. But it’s arguably more instructive to read Cohen’s own comments about YouTube from his days on the label side. In a 2009 interview with the Bible, he was asked about the video giant and responded thusly:

At the beginning we believed wholeheartedly that we needed to be the enabler. We believe that there's not going to be one magic solution to this but it's important to encourage people to experiment. So we went and started being very easy to license with. [But] we just haven't received enough compensation. They haven't figured out how to monetize it well enough to make our share significant enough.

We know, it’s not exactly breaking news that Lyor can talk out of both sides of his mouth, depending which side of the table he’s on. Lyor’s storied issues with veracity—the sobriquet “Liar Cohen” has been with him for years—continue unabated, as anyone who’s worked with him can attest. Like another highly placed egomaniac we’re all forced to deal with these days, he tends to make shit up—and believe it (witness his fatuous Snapchat sermons). It’s unsurprising that he and Cooper didn’t see eye-to-eye about the running of the company; Cooper has brought respect, honesty and profits to Warner, and he’s a civilian to boot.

Cohen’s professed concern for artists, meanwhile, is belied not only by his prior history but also by his management company LCAR’s recent lawsuit against Travis Scott. That suit, described by TMZ as frivolous, demands back commissions, though sources say Scott apparently felt LCAR didn’t do anything on his behalf.

And sure, eight years have passed since that interview. But if YouTube had "figured out how to monetize it well enough to make our share significant enough" in the interim, would negotiations be as tortured as they’ve been?

Most in the biz believe the issues Lyor was complaining about then remain unresolved, and that YouTube’s position with respect to rights holders still appears fundamentally adversarial. Is the company making that subscription service a priority? If your answer is, "Oh, yeah, they have a subscription service," well, there you go.  

The fact is, YouTube remains at best a double-edge sword. Its reach means opportunities for gigantic visibility, and its views are factored into a key Bible chart. Taking one’s content off the site, were that logistically possible, would present problems for rights holders’ acts. These factors give YouTube enormous leverage.

But it really isn’t logistically possible to take all your stuff down, due to another issue contributing to Cooper’s unhappy tone. Unsanctioned user-generated content floods the site in mind-boggling amounts every single day, and all the filters and bots in the world can’t catch it all. While Lyor gives lip service to the sub service, it appears that, in many respects, things remain at the same uneasy juncture he himself was complaining about in 2009.

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