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05/10/06

YouTube

Some interesting stuff floating around about YouTube and whether it might all be about to go horribly wrong. I thought I’d bring this up as it is a landmark site for many reasons, and how its future pans out could be a weather vane for many things online, most prominently copyright and how it is treated and respected – and content itself.

First of all, a good overview from Ian Tait on YouTube Haters;

There seems to be a few camps forming, broadly lovers, doubters and haters. I think Iím a lover / doubter fence-sitter. And hereís why:

I love YouTube becauseÖ

# Itís made online video easy and accessible. No hassle with special software.
# Itís easy to upload stuff in almost any format.
# Itís set the bar for quality at an attainable level for most people.
# Access to amazing things that have been languishing in archives.
# As far as Iím aware they were one of the champions of portable video (i.e. you can take it and embed it anywhere you like).
# The community is there (if you want to engage with it), you can almost ignore it if not and just use it to host your clips.
# It feels like it Ďgetsí its place on the web.

I doubt YouTube becauseÖ

# Thereís a lot of complicated rights issues that make my head hurt.
# Lots of big established companies feel threatened, even if they do deals with many of them, thereíll still be plenty left out in the cold, looking for their payout.
# Lawyers like making money.

Obviously the crux of this is – will YouTube get shut down for making (copyrighted) content free, or can they escape the curse of their 1.0 compadres Napster – who, it can be argued, it is easy to draw comparisons with?

A few weeks ago I was thinking about the rise of YouTube, and how on earth they thought they could possibly get away with allowing people to flout copyright, particularly that of one of the most beleagured, valuable, and litigious industries – Hollywood. (We won’t digress onto YouTube for music, because that’s basically Napster, right?) What made them think that they could escape the law suits and massive damage payments that were thrown at Napster (and Bertelsmann) and at all of the peer to peer networks such as Kazaa and Grokster? Did they have a strategy?

And I was incredibly impressed by what I thought must have been that strategy. Given the massive growth and uptake of users, did they (and their very rich lawyers)
plan that there would be an eye of the storm to weather? That this eye wouldbe a landmark case or two, where studios and other copyright holders had to consider the losses they thought they were suffering through YouTube eyeballs, against the value of those eyeballs to their existing property portfolios?

In other words, you’d see this coming, and know that it could be extremely tough, but would bargain on the fact that the MPAA (quite a slow-adopting industry) wouldn’t get around to throwing suits at you until your user base had already reached critical mass. By which point, the decision for the studios in the ‘if you can’t beat em join em’ argument could go either way. Any way, whoever had the nerve to see that coming, and to tough it out, has to be admired.

That aside, and coming back to the question of is YouTube doomed, research company Forrester has some interesting posts on this on one of its blogs. First of all, YouTube is going down says that, basically, YouTube is napster, and that for the same reason, it’s doomed. Follow the comments thread though, and you see users who disaggree and who say that actually, 90% (which I think is a totally made up stat) of YouTube content is user-generated.

Then, in response to itself, another Forrester research replies:

But, I can see a way out for YouTube, and it goes something like this:

# Do lots of deals quickly to make YouTube a legitimate video destination. The deal with Warner Music Group is a good start, but hardly enough. What about sports bloopers from CNN or Sopranos outtakes from HBO? Share that traffic, split that ad revenue, love those guys to death.
# Listen carefully to the jungle drums of Universal to see if there’s a way out.
# Lobby hard for copyright protection, publicly and visibly in the site experience.

I’m sure there will be some more on this, and it is more interesting that will the lawyers get YouTube as it has implications well beyond music and film. There is one argument that says napster was great for the (digital) music biz as it gave consumers a reason/incentive to learn how to use a pretty difficult technology (mp3) which, when adopted, became easier for the like of iTunes to develop as a channel.

Could the same thing happen for books? In part, I think publishers wish it could – the idea of something so popular around books is almost impossible to conceive. But clearly copyright violation terrifies the living daylights out of them. Then again, popular thought has it that free ebooks generate more sales of physical books, and that making content available in this format helps rescue authors from the obscurity Tim Oreilly says is the bigger threat than piracy…

Posted by Peter Collingridge in Future of the book.

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