When it was announced in October, YouTube RED was mostly met with praise. For $9.99 a month, subscribers would get ad-free access to YouTube, access to Google Play, and other bennies.
Not everyone was sold. ESPN has pulled all of its content from YouTube due to what a YouTube spokesperson called "rights and legal issues." At least EPSN got to choose. YouTube has said that companies that do not sign off on YouTube RED will find their videos unavailable to viewers. And it's keeping that promise, blocking a huge swath of Japanese artists from U.S. fans.
Japan's pop culture is one of its biggest exports, next to cars and electronics. It revived the console business after Atari imploded in the 1980s, and anime and manga have a small but fiercely devoted following. Its musicians are not as widely celebrated here, mostly due to the language barrier, but they do have a following.
Well, you won't find a lot of them on YouTube any more. Major labels like Victor Entertainment and Columbia Music Japan, as well as local labels for the country's biggest acts like Morning Musume, AKB48, and Dir En Gray are all unavailable to U.S. YouTubers. Either the artist does not show up in a search, or it appears with a message saying, "It is not available in your country."
The problem stems from a YouTube Red feature that allows users to view videos offline or download them to a mobile device for up to 30 days. That kind of functionality is in conflict with Japanese copyright laws, where they have to monitor when, where, and how content is used. Many Japanese artists only post a portion of a music video to YouTube so as to prevent piracy. It's also why Japan has been slow to embrace streaming services. The result, though, is that Japan's CD sales remain strong as the rest of the world abandons the format, and CDs often sell for 3,000 Yen, which is about $30.
Because YouTube Red is only available in the U.S., only American fans are blocked out. Once YouTube Red expands worldwide, those countries will also find themselves unable to access Japanese artists.
This may seem pointless to many of you, but it really is a case of unnecessary hardball on YouTube's part, to force users to pay $10 a month to see what they had been able to see for free just a few weeks ago and asking Japan to ignore its own laws. YouTube is a vital form of music promotion, what with MTV's descent into irrelevance. I found a workaround, using the Tor browser and changing the settings to say I'm in Japan, but the connection is slow.
This probably won't stop with Japanese labels. Does YouTube have to pull this nonsense with Adele and Taylor Swift before people realize how wrong it is?