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Heavy Discussions about New Media
Micki Krimmel, 12 Jan 07
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Whether or not you’re a fan of online video, you should at least be paying attention. Online video is much more than the sum of its current parts. It’s more than silly lipsynching videos, movie trailer mash-ups, YouTube, citizen journalism, video-blogging, and the birth of a brand new independent art movement. Online video is all those things but it’s also forging the path for new media. As Old and New Media become one and the same, the importance of how this all shakes out cannot be underestimated.

Online video sharing exploded so quickly that the technologies that empowered it -- and certainly the media industry -- could barely keep up. Less than a year after it’s launch, YouTube now has over 100 million videos and was recently purchased by Google for $1.65 billion. Time Magazine named it 2006’s invention of the year. With numbers like that, big media is taking notice. And as amateur creators gain more notoriety, they’re beginning to demand money as well. It seems as though the free-for-all is over. All of a sudden the big questions are being asked – questions about copyright, sharing etiquette and compensation for artists.

For example, a controversy stirred up within the video-blogging community last week when it was discovered that MyHeavy.com was hosting and sharing videos without permission from the creators. Videos were being scraped from the video sharing site Blip.tv and re-encoded for display on MyHeavy.com in their own branded player. The videos had the MyHeavy watermark, pre-roll advertising and no attribution or links back to the creators of the videos. By sharing the videos in this way, MyHeavy was directly violating the Creative Commons licenses used by most of these videobloggers.

They weren’t going to take it lying down. Sharing media openly online is one thing, but once money starts changing hands, artists need to have a say.

First, Casey McKinnon, of sci-fi comedy videoblog Galacticast, blogged about the incident and shared the news on the Yahoo! Videoblogging group, a popular discussion group for folks in the space. The discussion heated up quickly. The videobloggers sent emails, blogged about the issue, considered legal action and discussed organizing to protect themselves. Mike Hudack, CEO of Blip.tv reached out to MyHeavy on the videobloggers' behalf and MyHeavy took the videos down. This wasn’t the first time something like this had happened. Another video site, Veoh faced similar accusations last year.

Online media artists do not have the same resources to protect their work as those working in more established mediums. Now that New Media is growing up and real business opportunities are presenting themselves, the artists are seeing a need to look toward Old Media tactics to ensure that their interests are protected. Steve Woolf and Zadi Diaz (Jet Set Show) discuss the issue in their podcast New Mediacracy. They suggest the creation of a professional guild to advocate on behalf of videobloggers. Woolf notes that this trend is part of the “natural forces pulling back on the wild openness of Web 2.0.?

Videobloggers are looking to create a set of standards – an accepted etiquette for sharing video content on the web. (See Mike Meiser’s wiki on the topic.) They want to decide for themselves how others can and cannot use their work. Most videobloggers have benefited from the unrestricted sharing of their content on the web, and as a geekier group than most, many are staunchly against DRM. So how can online video artists support open media by allowing the free sharing of their content but still retain ownership and ensure their ability to make money from their work?

Well this is really the whole point behind Creative Commons licensing. Creative Commons often gets a bad rap as it’s misunderstood to allow complete pandemonium with your content. Want to download my video? Sure! Want to edit and make money off of it, go ahead! In fact, Creative Commons’ mission is to give artists options when choosing a license to protect their intellectual property. You retain the rights you choose and allow others to use your work how you specify. Most artists working in the Web 2.0 space are happy to allow others to share and remix their work – they just don’t want to be providing for other families when their own refrigerators could use a bit of restocking.

We don’t need to redefine the set of rules for sharing digital content. Creative Commons has already done that. We do need to work toward broader recognition and acceptance of CC licenses. The licenses should be clearly displayed to allow for easier community enforcement. Creative Commons does provide a digital code for you to insert into the metadata of your content, but by not also making the license readily viewable by everyone (not just machines or code monkeys), artists are missing a huge opportunity to educate the viewing public about these new copyright standards. That education is necessary to spread the adoption rate of - and respect for - Creative Commons licenses.

These issues are becoming increasingly important for all media. Traditional media is entering the online space at an extremely rapid rate. With this week’s announcements of Apple TV and Sling Media’s place-shifting technology, we are already seeing the convergence of television and the internet for home entertainment. We must think about how to ensure that as Old and New Media converge, the ideals and standards of both mix together in a way that comes out beneficial to everyone.

As traditional media companies move into the online space, they must work with the technology companies to get there. This provides a great opportunity for technologists to help Old Media transition to rules of copyright better suited to a digital environment. We’ve already seen what happens when you transplant Old Media standards into a New Media world. Napster didn’t end well for anyone. Let’s hope this time around we can avoid suing grandmothers and college students.

And lastly, we need to take another look at the Digital Millenium Copyright Act. The DMCA provides protection to websites that allow users to upload content. While it’s important that technology companies that provide for this type of innovation have some type of safe harbor, the mechanism by which the DMCA provides this protection is often criticized. For instance, under the DMCA, the onus to report suspected infringement is on the copyright holder no matter how blatant the infringement. If I create a video and I want to make sure it’s not hosted in unauthorized locations, I need to go look for it. Have you ever tried to search YouTube for a specific video? It can be a Herculean task. If I find my video somewhere I don’t want it, I have to submit a take-down notice according to the specifications of the DMCA. The website then has 10 days to remove the offending content or to challenge the notice.

This loophole is what allows websites like MyHeavy to ignore the copyrights of videobloggers – legally. And when a site does remove content, this leads to dead links and bad searches, ruining the experience for everyone. This is bad for New Media and bad for the web. We need a better solution. This problem can be partially solved by, again, embracing Creative Commons licensing. As stated earlier, Creative Commons provides a digital mark for content covered by its licenses. Video sharing sites should be held accountable for looking for those marks and responding accordingly.

Video sharing sites will do well by making nice with the online content creators. They can do that by respecting artists’ copyrights and sharing revenue with them. While it may seem oversaturated, the online video space is young and there are huge opportunities for artists, technologies and media companies alike.

We need to work together to explore new models for compensating artists. Let’s experiment with models where the piece of media is not what’s bought and sold. How do you own a digital file that in its nature wants to be copied? Artists and creators should be paid for their participation in culture – the value they add for the rest of us. Turning books and movies and music into physical “objects? that can be bought and sold is what makes them go out of print and become unrecoverable. Do we really want to do this with digital media? Is that even an option?

We’re at a turning point with how we consume, interact with, and pay for media. How well technologists and media people can play together at this moment will surely have a huge impact on our culture.

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Comments

Awesome points Micki: thanks for clearing the air on Creative Commons. Now that Joi Ito is taking the helm and bringing the blog community and CC together in new ways we need more of this honest analysis out there.


Posted by: evonne on 12 Jan 07

Well said! :D


Posted by: Bill C. on 12 Jan 07

As a proud wearer of a CC shirt and a Science Commons fan, this is the post I plan to send to everyone who is confused about Creative Commons. As they say "with great power comes great responsibility", and in time as people realize that user content has, hopefully they will come to understand the CC license, just as software developers came to grips with GPL and other licenses.


Posted by: Deepak on 12 Jan 07

great article micki!
thanks for laying it all out there.


Posted by: ryanne on 12 Jan 07

The most important thing to get across is that we dont have to create new rules. Creative Commons is a good foundation to build on. Now we simply need to get everyone respecting: video sharing sites as well as individual videobloggers. It's more about learning new habits and expectations.

Put CC licenses in your video and RSS feed.
Expect video sharing sites and aggregators to display your license and link back to you.

All these video companies are young and hungry for community acceptance. Now is the time to set the pace.


Posted by: jay dedman on 13 Jan 07

Great piece Micki - I agree, when I listened to Steve & Zadi in their podcast, discussing a new way to protect content-creators, I wondered about CC. I know Steve's argument was people (like MyHeavy) weren't complying with CC, and it might be necessary to group together (in a new way).

As much as I'm a huge fan and believer in Unions, I'm not sure they would work the same way online as they do in the work-place. The work-place isn't a very democratic environment, unions help provide a voice. But the internet is all "voice", it's very democratic, it's very open and free. I'm not saying a content-creator's union would be a bad idea, but I agree, that it might not be necessary (it even might be redundant with CC in place).

Something to think about.


Posted by: mike on 13 Jan 07

Hands down one of the best things I've read on the net.


Posted by: Clintus on 14 Jan 07

Miki, great article. I emphatically agree with all the sentiments and thank you for writing it.

There's only one small point. The DMCA doesn't protect the likes of MyHeavy. It protects "hosts" when someone else uploads the media... That is to say if someone else uploaded the media to myheavy they'd be protected under the DMCA... but the people of myheavy themselves did this... it's willful and deliberate widespread copyright infringement done for direct profit. It's galling. No court in their right mind would rule in their favor on this one.

The bottom line is it's not a DMCA issue... it's a plain old copyright issue. They stole. It's that simple.

That said I still hope something can be worked out with MyHeavy to get vloggers paid. Some sort of revenue share by which users can opt in to allowing MyHeavy to display their content. After all MyHeavy really knows what they're doing when it comes to making money of broadband content.


Posted by: Michael Meiser on 14 Jan 07

Thanks Micki- I'm going to start including a visual cc mark in my work from now on.


Posted by: mattblack on 14 Jan 07

Yes, great summary off all these issues.

I've avoided a CC license in the video itself, but I should make it part of my workflow. (Or... a handy-dandy automatic post-roll on the hosting end.)

I consider video that people submit to Minnesota Stories plain ol' copyrighted, but there again I should ask contributors if they'd like to CC license their content so it can be shared legally.


Posted by: Chuck Olsen on 15 Jan 07

Micki – I want to clarify one thing you stated in your article. You wrote, “The DMCA provides protection to websites that allow users to upload content.? First, the DMCA does not protect websites, it protects Internet service providers (ISPs). Second, the protection is not unlimited. If an ISP has the right and ability to control the infringing content (as it does on video sharing sites) and it receives a direct financial benefit from the infringing activity (as video sharing sites do), than the protections of the DMCA no longer apply.


Posted by: Gill Sperlein on 15 Jan 07



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