YouTube has asked musicians to agree not to disparage the streaming-video service in exchange for promotional support, according to people familiar with the matter, a way to quell persistent criticism by artists.
In recent months, YouTube has given a handful of musicians a couple hundred thousand dollars to produce videos and promoted their work on billboards, part of a larger campaign to improve the site’s relationship with the music industry.
Yet such support comes with a catch, with some musicians required to promise the won’t say negative things about YouTube, said the people, who asked not to be identified discussing private business transactions. Non-disparagement agreements are common in business, but YouTube’s biggest direct competitors in music don’t require them, the people said.
YouTube’s non-disparagement agreements go beyond a requirement not to criticize the video site, one of the people said, without going into detail. YouTube requires many partners to agree to such conditions, including creators who make original series for its paid service, the person said.
YouTube has taken extra precautions in recent deals due to an incident with director Morgan Spurlock. Spurlock caught YouTube off-guard when he admitted in December to sexual misconduct just three months after the company acquired the rights to release his latest film, a sequel to the Oscar-nominated documentary “Super Size Me.”
YouTube has more reason to worry about artists’ public comments than most companies. Songwriters and artists have assailed the site for what they view as meager revenue-sharing and poor protections against piracy. Dozens of musicians signed a petition in 2016 rebuking free music services and pushing for Congress to make YouTube more responsible for policing copyright violations.
Surely non-disparagement contracts can’t be considederd at all legal?