Retrospectacle: A Neuroscience Blog

YouTube, the open-source video upload site, is as popular as ever following its buyout from Google. However, today I came across a deliciously snarky editorial about YouTube’s blatant use of copyrighted material. Is what YouTube doing really illegal? Can you REALLY get free egg rolls??

(Continued below the fold)…

Specifically, the author (Simon Dumenco at Advertising Age) is particularly irked at YouTube’s response to Viacom’s demands that 100,000 clips from their various media/shows/etc be taken down.

Right before Google came a-courting last fall, I described YouTube in this column as basically functioning as a massive restaurant with a big sign outside that reads “FREE HORS D’OEUVRES, ALL YOU CAN EAT” — only you don’t have your own kitchen; you just steal much of your best food from other restaurants (or, rather, the food falls off of trucks, and your patrons bring it all in, while your waiters look the other way).

YouTube responded (somewhat wounded) that Viacom missed out on a good opportunity to interact with the YouTube community.

That’s like you saying, “The biggest feeling we have right now is that the YouTube community will no longer be able to enjoy free Viacom egg rolls.”

They’re not your freaking egg rolls to serve!

You don’t even know how to make egg rolls!

The author brings up a good point but is a little overly self-righteous in my opinion. The strength of his argument is weakened by the fact that YouTube *does* make its own egg rolls: user created and uploaded material. These videos are still the top content, along with some music videos that bands such as Ok Go are happy to upload for the world to see. YouTube doesn’t just rely on copyrighted eggrolls for its exposure and clout, the real value in YouTube is its community and potential for creativity…as well as an “everyman” take on whatever strikes your fancy.

Another argument is this: can you really get in a big huff over content that was already given away for free? What I’m talking about here is broadcast or syndicated TV which is freely given to everyone and all. One could certainly argue that the content is ad supported, but the end result is still that the content itself is free. People with TiVos or DVDr’s can easily record and edit out the commercials, its not uncommon at all. Its not illegal to record TV and watch it again, or even to show it to an audience as long as you don’t profit from it (there are exceptions like sports games, etc). Cable TV, which users DO pay for, seem to have a real beef with YouTube as they rely on subscriptions more than ads. However HBO/Showtime/etc content on YouTube is rare in my experience compared to comedy shows like the Daily Show and Conan and SNL (all free). My guess is that replaying older shows actually generates viewership for the current episode which charge more for ad space anyway. So then, whats the big deal?

(Hat tip Ben)


  1. #1 J-Dog
    February 20, 2007

    Advertisers should be happy as hell, because UTube helps create or energize interest in the shows they advertise on. So basically, Simon Dumenco can Kiss My BIG Gluteus Maximus… on free, UTube video! What a maroon!

  2. #2 Beren
    February 20, 2007

    It seems like some sort of mass inanity to me.

    Well, I suppose it makes ~some~ sense. The folks at YouTube are getting a certain amount of traffic for the Viacom-produced material, even if it is dwarfed by the user-created material. Viacom pays to produce something, they get advertising revenues from the networks for it, and then somebody else gets advertising revenues from the Internet for it. From an accountant’s perspective, it isn’t fair.

    From a consumer’s perspective, though, it seems extremely short-sighted of them. When was the last time anybody had something nice to say about big content companies? All you hear is the RIAA suing peoples’ grandmothers, Viacom suing YouTube, and the like. They’re building a lot of public resentment. How is that a good business plan?

  3. #3 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    February 20, 2007

    A man returned home from a trip, found his apartment ransacked, then tripped over a corpse in his bedroom. Don’t you hate it when that happens to you?

  4. #4 David Harmon
    February 20, 2007

    Viacom’s real complaint is just that they aren’t getting a kickback. SOP for Big Media….

  5. #5 LuigiDaMan
    February 24, 2007

    The copyright protection in this country has been completely taken over by big corporations in their quest for ever enlarging profits. The truth is: posting David Letterman in YouTube helps the viewer who would other wise miss the program or bit, the artrist/performer who wants their work to be seen by the largest possible audience, the company that produces the show because now people know where it originates and “branding” is the big buzzword of the 21st Century – right? (or is that “paradigm”, damn, I forget) and YouTube and Google who come to their sites ’cause of the free video. But, copyright means “squeeze every last penny out of whoevers work you own” (look it up). The best thing about the digital age is that there are more chances to get things out, to communicate. I’m certain the big boys will eventually destroy this venue (think “net neutrality”), but in the meantime, it’s great for everyone else. Just post it till they sue your butt.

New comments have been disabled.