Thursday, March 15, 2007

The YouTube Controversy

In 2001, RCA Records did something smart, something I thought, perhaps naively, that other record companies might decide to use as part of a new business model. They made the Dave Matthews Band's song "Everyday" available as a download on Napster a month before the new Matthews CD came out.

Just like in the days of old, back when singles were still a viable marketing strategy, I downloaded the song, liked it, and bought the album the day it came out. I know many of my friends did the same thing.

But other than making a "song of the week" from an unknown artist available from the iTunes music store, no one has followed that strategy yet. The labels have seen fit to approach the internet as an adversary rather than make it their ally.

But they're not entirely wrong, are they? Even after the demise and rebirth of Napster as a responsible company, the "tubes" are clogged with internet sites devoted to the trade of torrent files which are designed to circumvent copyright law. Every time the entertainment industry closes one down, two more torrent sites open in the wake.

Earlier this week, Viacom filed a massive copyright infringement suit against YouTube. Just last month, they asked YouTube to remove all the clips that were copyrighted properties of Viacom. YouTube complied, which technically puts them in compliance with the "Safe Harbor" provisions of the Digital Milennium Copyright Act. As long as a hosting company removes the material upon request, they're in compliance.

But within minutes, users had reposted almost all of them. In the same week that the suit was filed, I went to YouTube and searched on one of the most commonly purloined Viacom properties, "The Daily Show". The search came back with 2,400 hits. Viacom can request yet again that the clips be removed--- But how much time and money are they supposed to devote to tracking down violations of their copyright? And how would a smaller company without the resources stand a chance? Should they not be compensated for the man hours spent running down YouTube clips?

The BBC, just as RCA did before, seems to have stumbled onto a better idea. They've decided to take advantage of the promotional potential of YouTube, making clips from their entertainment shows and news shows available through YouTube. Earlier today, I watched the first portion of a BBC sitcom called "Bottom" and enjoyed it. Based on the strength of that clip, I will either watch the show when it comes on BBC America, or I'll order the DVD. Just like when I heard the Dave Matthews song, the clip I saw today makes me want to see the rest of the show.

It's a shame that Viacom and YouTube can't seem to come to a similar understanding.

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