Is YouTube just Napster online?
Think about it. In one sense, YouTube (and every other video sharing site) is just a p2p network online. It’s a place you go to share and collect lots of copyrighted content – in this case video. Music videos, TV shows, clips from movies, it’s all on there. In fact, a lot of the video content on video sharing sites is in fact the same video that people have been trading on p2p networks for years.
But wait, it’s supposed to be *user generated* right? Sure, just like we were all supposed to be trading home-made garage band tapes on Napster. It’s pretty clear that lots of people in Hollywood are going to view YouTube, Revver, et al as simply enabling illegal copying. The rumours are already flying about the C&D letters on their way to offices ofYouTube.
So what’s the difference between YouTube and (the original) Napster? It’s the all important “non-infinging uses“. The fact is that YT is great for, and is heavily used for, people to trade their own videos. Although it’s technically harder to create your own video content, in fact more people create digital video content than they do audio content. And all the community features (comments, groups, ratings, alerts) really do get used and really do add to the service. Putting content at a web site just makes it much more accessible than trying to share it over a p2p network, and that means that a web site is better able to support lots of non-infringing uses.
But all that accessibility also makes the copyright content that much more visible and obvious. Which is why “real soon now” YT is going to have to start filtering out copyright content more aggressively. They can’t seriously expect to hide behind pushing the copyright filter burden down to their users. And let’s face it, the filtering will be easy, because the same metadata that enables you to find an epsiode of The Simpsons or The Family Guy also makes it easy to filter that content out.
The $64 million question is, how much of YT’s traffic depends on people coming for the copyrighted content? I would think that they’ve probably got enough momentum to not suffer too greatly by removing the copyright content. At least the obvious stuff, like recent Olympics coverage or current TV shows. What I worry about is the back-catalog. Stuff like William Shatner singing Rocket Man from 1978. You might call this the “long tail of commercial content”.
There is a lot of that stuff at YT, and in the aggregate that may account for a lot of traffic. But if you start removing “first run” commercial content, then where do you draw the line? Presumably this is why YT is playing this game of chicken in the first place, because they know that removing every piece of video that anyone in the world has a copyright claim to would seriously gut their catalog. Maybe they’re building a super-secret self-service system for asserting copyrights for the purpose of getting renumerated by YT, rather than having the content removed. Now THAT would be cool!
Update: Here is an interesting article on this subject from a columnist at Newsweek:
“It would be easy to call the venture-backed, San Mateo-based YouTube the Napster of video, an outlaw startup rocketing onto dotcom radar screens on the backs of rights-holders. But that’s a designation that the year-old company desperately wants to avoid.”