Videos of the hit rap song “Smack That” (https://youtube.com/watch?v=p7Z9_I33IF0) have been viewed more than half a million times on the popular Web site YouTube. That doesn’t include the countless amateur videos of young people lip-syncing to its infectious beat or ones where the song is used as a soundtrack for everything from pro soccer matches to original animation.
Most, if not all, of this has been done without the permission of the rappers, their record company or the songwriters’ publishers. It is a common scenario on YouTube, one that the Internet’s hottest video-sharing site, concerned about lawsuits and loss of content that could derail it, has been working to resolve. The company is negotiating licensing agreements with TV and music companies, such as Vivendi SA’s Universal Music Group, which owns the label that released “Smack That.”
But, even with those deals in place, YouTube executives are finding it a slog to get all of the necessary permissions to license the songs and shows users are putting on its site. Most of YouTube Inc.’s agreements with record labels don’t address royalties for music publishers, who control the copyrights to the words and music underlying the recordings. YouTube or its partners must locate parties ranging from studios to actors, and from music composers to the owners of venues, and get them to sign off. Where they don’t succeed, YouTube risks being hit with lawsuits or having to take popular content down.