Thursday, May 04, 2006

Mama, don't let your babies grow up to be YouTube

A couple of guys called Coolz0r and Nathan Weinberg have both announced that they are giving up YouTube after Nathan was banned and Coolz0r was on his last warning (edit) for repeatedly breaching copyright when uploading video content. Weinberg, who writes the Inside Google blog, says he is going further by launching an attack on other YouTube users by reporting their copyright violations in the hope their accounts will get banned too, thus slashing YouTube's huge library of stolen content.

No one is covering themselves in glory in this one. Geek News Central's conclusion:

I have a feeling we have not heard the last from this guy. But there are some valid points by both YouTube and the user. YouTube is trying to keep from getting sued by the MPAA and various other organizations, while at the same times users are trying to express themselves through capturing important video events and posting them.

No, users are not "trying to express themselves". They are breaking the law. Fair use does not apply to YouTube videos. Fair use implies some editorial content around the third-party content, not just "if I only steal 10% then it's okay". If you put together a half-hour movie show with movie trailers bookended by commentary and opinion, then you can claim fair use. Uploading a single SNL skit from a longer show and putting in the comments "OMGZ this is so kewl!!!" is not fair use. Nathan says:

It is clear they have no interest in preserving a digital archive of video content for the future, and that I cannot rely on them for posterity.

A "digital archive"? "Posterity"? Give me a break. Video sharing services like YouTube are not the National Library. They are purely commercial concerns, and users who think they deserve to have somewhere to share copyrighted content are kidding themselves. Nathan's reaction is childish.

They say the customer is always right, but in this case the user (hard to say "customer" since they're not buying anything) is wrong. The only way you could twist this around to the customer being right is if you say that the copyright owners of the SNL skits, South Park episodes, Daily Show bits and anime DVD rips should be investing in their own distribution mechanisms to allow fans to see their content the way they want to see it.

Either way, YouTube's structure is the problem, at least from what they set their company up to be. Like Napster, their business plan seemed to be reliant in a large part on users breaking the law. While this is a cheap and easy way to grow quickly, it will catch up with you in the end if you grow large enough. In this vein, Dare Obasanjo linked both Napster and Friendster to YouTube's dilemma. It's true that Friendster could be a valid analogy, but only because YouTube's strategy has broken down to a point where it has to make a choice between satisfying its users and not getting sued by big corporations. In a company backed by VC, users lose out every time in that battle.

So who else, apart from all the other video sharing sites, is cruising blithely into the same dilemma of the users versus the business plan? I think Flickr will have to answer some questions soon about not only copyrighted material, but also their reliance on celebrity photos which may contravene the right of celebrity, something which I have blogged about before (twice!). Google will also have to address how their Blogger service is used so extensively for textual copyright abuse.

I will make every attempt to not allow Tinfinger to be used in the same way. It will be hard to police, but that's part of the price you pay for allowing user-generated content to be published on your sites. I don't want to have to read blog posts by Tinfinger users similar to those by Nathan and Coolz0r. Architecting your business to promote legal participation by users is the only way to build a Web 2.0 site for the long term.

4 Comments:

Anonymous Miel said...

Hi, I agree that you can't steal content. Totally. The clips I put up at YouTube are commercials, I put them there, sometimes by request of a company I seed the clips for, sometimes because I discuss them on my blog, which is about marketing.

I think commercials are in a grey zone and should be tolerated to be shared. I pay taxes, I pay my cable, I pay my internet connection. So I pay for the ads. I think that if I want to use them, discuss them, that it should be allowed.

I agree that tv shows, cartoons etc aren't in that grey zone and shouldn't be made an exception for.

I quitted YouTube because they're not completely straight in their policy and because they became slow in delivering the movies I uploaded and recently they've been down quite a lot, causing my blog to load forever.

If YouTube says commercials aren't legal to upload, then how would you seed viral movies? I'm just curious.

Miel Van Opstal (Coolz0r)

11:52 am, May 04, 2006  
Anonymous Miel said...

And for the record: I'm not banned at YouTube. My account is still active. I decided to leave.

Nathan's case and mine differ and quite a few ways, but we do come together at one point: YouTube needs come clean and act in a straightforward way, and treat all the users the same.

That might become difficult, because if you check the ranking lists of 'most viewed', you'll find that 60 to 70%, if not more, of the clips are either compilations of tv highlights of news shows, sports events or other content alike. You'll see that amongst the most viewed videos there are music videos plainly nicked from MTV, bootleg concerts and karaoke stupidity that are downright violation every copyright there is.

And that's why we came together with our stories.

11:59 am, May 04, 2006  
Blogger Paul Montgomery said...

Commercials are not in a grey zone. They are copyrighted, plain and simple. Paying for cable doesn't mean that content from cable - the shows or the ads - are free for you to distribute.

If you want to create viral content, use CC licensing.

I agree with you on what YouTube should do, which is what they should have done before they started. They shouldn't have given users the false sense that they were allowed to upload whatever they liked according to their own morality.

BTW, why did you upload SNL skits in the first place? Surely you knew they were copyrighted?

1:32 pm, May 04, 2006  
Anonymous Miel said...

Well, that was just stupid from me. I uploaded fake commercials and didn't knew they were SNL skits, until someone told it to me in the comments.

The other things I uploaded was Nick Burns Your Company Computer Guy.

I was stupid enough to upload them because I thought: they're everywhere on the internet, it's probably 'common good'.

YouTube striked me for it, I received a warning and the next day I cleaned out every video in my archive (except for the commercials) that might have had copyrights in them.

I agree that cable content is copyrighted, I only meant the ads, as weird as it might sound.

5:41 pm, May 04, 2006  

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