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.”

4 comments so far

  1. Kevin Nalty on

    Scott- I enjoyed this piece and here’s my opinion. I can’t wait until YouTube cleans up the copyright infringements. If you want packaged network clips, you’ll always have video on demand. What makes Web 2.0 online video sharing interesting is seeing what you’d NEVER see anywhere else. Example- has a homeless agoraphobic that has posted 300 funny and psychodelic videos on the site.

    The model that will be standing after YouTube goes Napster (and maybe migrates to a charge model) is one like Revver where we can actually get paid (as amateur video creators) for our work through ad revenue. Nobody has ever seen our stuff, and nobody will ever buy it, so our only shot is shared ad revenue! I can get fast exposure on YouTube (several thousand people within days) but I don’t make a penny and I’m lost in the sea of stolen videos.

  2. James Jarvis on

    Ha ha! Actually, I’m a multiple personality disordered homeless agoraphobic with side orders of GAD (generalized anxiety disorder), SAD (social anxiety disorder) and MAD (maladjustment disorder) which are really just side effects of BAD (bullshit anxiety disorder) , but don’t worry, it’s not catchy.

    I just don’t understand why anyone would spend the time and energy to rip off TV shows and commercials and upload them to internet sites. Why? What’s the point? Is there anyone in the world who has a computer but not a TV?

    “Sea of stolen videos”. Nice. Isn’t that one of the seven seals or vials or trumps of the apocolypse?

  3. download on

    I wonder why youtube doesn’t have download feature šŸ˜‰
    Heres what I found:
    You can download YouTube video from that site.
    Unlike all other download service out there, the downloaded files from this site are in .flv format BY DEFAULT so you don’t have to rename or change extension or anything. It also named your file according to the clip name at YouTube šŸ™‚
    Give it a shot.

  4. Michael on

    It occured to me that YT was being a real copyright infringement but you put it really well that’s its just like the p2p nightmare of the past 10 years. It seems as far as software and ‘soft’ digital media is concerned, it aint stopping soon …

    Other than YT, Google Video is also similar. Check this out one: Worse in terms of copyrighted content if you ask me.

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