The multi-millionaire composer Pete Waterman has said he is being exploited "like foreign workers in Dubai" because of Youtube's policy on royalties.
Waterman, 62, told a press conference marking the launch of a website campaigning for a fairer deal for songwriters (www.fairplayforcreators.com) that he had earned just £11 from Youtube for the song ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’.
The song, which he co-wrote for Rick Astley, found itself the focal point of an online craze last year and was viewed 154 million times on the site.
He said: "There was I sitting at Christmas thinking, 'I must have made a few bob this year with the old Rickrolling'.
"I rang my publisher and they said 'You'll be all right', until I saw the royalty statement. £11. If 154 million plays means £11 I get more from Radio Stoke playing Never Gonna Give You Up than I do from YouTube."
The ‘Rickrolling’ phenomenon involved web users sending each other web links that appeared to be relevant to something they were discussing, but were in fact disguised links to the Astley song on YouTube, a subsidiary of internet giant Google.
Waterman, whose fortune has been estimated at £47 million, added: "Panorama did a documentary on the exploitation of foreign workers in Dubai. I feel like one of those workers, because I earned less for a year's work off Google or YouTube than they did off the Bahrain government."
The Panorama documentary reported that construction workers from India and Pakistan were paid as little as £120 a month for working up to 12 hours a day, six days a week in Dubai.
The musician Billy Bragg, who is also backing the songwriters' campaign, seemed slightly alarmed by the comparison with workers in the Gulf.
"We need to get this in a bit of perspective," he told the press conference.
"Workers in Bahrain don't have any other source of income and we do, so I would just like to put that on the record. It's probably best if we compare ourselves to somebody else."
The PRS For Music organisation wants Google and YouTube to pay higher royalties to songwriters for use of their work online.
A YouTube spokesman said: "We absolutely believe that artists and songwriters should make money from the use of their material. We previously had a licence with the PRS to enable this to happen and we are very committed to reaching terms so that we can renew our licence.
"The more music videos YouTube streams, and the more popular those music videos are, the more money YouTube will generate to share with the PRS and its songwriters.
"It's a win-win arrangement. But YouTube cannot be expected to engage in a business in which it loses money every time a music video is played - that is simply not a sustainable business model."