Mark Cuban wonders aloud whether YouTube’s announcement that popular videos will start earning royalties will spawn a videomakers’ guild or performing rights society along the lines of ASCAP or BMI. It’s an interesting concept, since statutory royalties for songwriters have been around for so long that nobody challenges their merit anymore. As it becomes easier to share and track online content, it’s also easier to encourage your fans to spread your work legally by embedding your YouTube videos into their blogs and their MySpace pages. With the precedent set by the deals YouTube has already cut with major labels, it’s not hard to see a future where Google’s funneling royalties to songwriters as well as video creators.
Right now, musicians are often frustrated when it comes to promoting their songs with viral video. Allowing fans to remix songs or to include them in videos often means going against a hundred years of tradition. While the benefits of growing an audience usually outweigh the opportunity cost of missing a handful of royalty payments, it’s still hard and frustrating for many working musicians to make the leap. Fortunately, that seems to be changing with the help of technology. Not long from now, whether royalties are tracked by Google using the same systems they use to measure and pay publishers through their AdSense program, you’ll no longer have to worry about waiving those micropayments when fans share your music.