Just another day in America

In Laws & Regulation, Media Criticism on September 19, 2006 at 1:07 am

Two stories caught my eye tonight. One is about a company who was once the mecca of peer-to-peer filesharing, whose popularity changed the way we thought about music distribution, and who has ultimately been forced to become part of the corporate structure it once sought to undermine. The second is about another company whose popularity has re-defined the way video content has been distributed, and how corporate entities are seeking to censor & profit from this revolution.

Just another day in America.


“Napster…on Monday said it had engaged advisers to help it evaluate “strategic alternatives” – including a potential sale…Napster last month reported a quarterly loss before tax of $9.6m onrevenues of $28.1m.” -MSNBC

Say what you want about intellectual property rights, but no CD is worth $20. Napster in its hayday opened a lot of peoples’ eyes to a lot of new and different music that would have otherwise been unavailable, or by the time it got through the music industry apparatus so watered down that it would be sucked dry of any value.

I’m all for artists getting paid, but I’m also for giving people the ability to seek and discover new things. And the suits of the music industry have no value for that.

I also understand that Napster’s hand at the time was forced, and under the law they had to essentially sell out in order to stay in business. But this report simply underlines how far they’ve fallen, and has implications to the general state of peer-to-peer filesharing in Bush’s America.

And as sad as that is, it pales in comparison to this:


“Under the revenue-sharing agreement announced Monday, New York-based Warner Music became the first major label to license its songs to the millions of ordinary people who upload their homemade videos to the San Mateo-based YouTube…The Warner Music deal could be the first of numerous pacts between YouTube and the music industry, which has been exasperated by copyrighted material appearing on video-sharing sites.” -San Jose Mercury

I know that YouTube has signed a deal with NBC in the past to distribute trailers for their fall programing, and while that’s barely defensible, this deal is truly disgusting. Here’s more:

“Many of YouTube’s most widely watched videos already include copyrighted music for which record labels and artists haven’t been paid. Though none of the labels has yet sued the company, Universal Music Group CEO Doug Morris typified the entertainment industry’s exasperation with YouTube just last week, when he implied that the world’s largest record label was prepared to sue the site unless it did a better job of preventing copyright violations.

YouTube seems prepared to ward off any threats, saying that the Warner Music videos will be tracked by its “content identification and royalty reporting system,” also announced Monday. The technology, expected to be ready by the end of the year, will enable music companies to review videos created by YouTube users that include copyrighted songs and decide whether they want to approve or reject them because of infringing content.

It pretty much signals — at least in terms of Warner compositions — the end of any potential litigation they’d be subject to,” said Chanko.” -San Jose Mercury (emphasis added)

Basically record companies want to censor independent video content based on the way it reflects on the music playing in the background!

The beauty of YouTube is that the censor is us, and what we are willing to accept as appropriate. If it’s within the laws of the United States of America (who still has free speech, right?), and its accepted by the people, then it’s permissable for you to distribute it to a potentially large audience because of the format YouTube has helped to pioneer.

But no more. Now if you’re video is deemed inappropriate by the same coporate interests who have ruined radio, television, and cinema, then it’s deemed unacceptible for distribution.

Again here we see that corporate interests are forcing the hand of a company who goes against their uber-capitalist structure. And in my mind, the case of YouTube & Time Warner breaks down pretty explicitly to a form of public & legal blackmail.

And it’s my opinion that partnerships like this will kill YouTube, because it will fall into the same censored structure that plagues the rest of our media distributors.

When will these corporations just take a deep breath and relax? When will they realize that it’s possible that outlets like YouTube can actually benefit their bottom line in the long term? Squeezing your customers for every cent that they have today will only give them less money to give you tomorrow.

And YouTube is already acting as free promotion for any of the “protected” intellectual property being distributed. Corporations need to realize that suits in a board room are not necessarily the greatest barometer of artistic achievement, and that the control over the content (aka censorship) that they try to have is counterproductive.

A search for “Time Warner Sucks” on YouTube tonight yielded no results.

  1. Also, don’t forget the purchase of MySpace by Rupert Murdoch


    (joke profile of Murdoch on myspace)

    This is all ridiculous. I wish the founders of these sites wouldn’t cave in to the big dollars being thrown their way by corporate america. But I guess Napster, which fought for a long time, even eventually had to cave in.

  2. And as a follow up to this, see:

    Apparently Napster stock surged today when it was announced they were seeking a buyer for the company.

    Leave it to Wall Street…

  3. Here‘s more on this:

    Did you see Chris Wallace’s interview with Bill Clinton? If not, you can watch it here, thanks to YouTube. But wait a minute, doesn’t Fox News own a copyright on this content? Is the video-sharing site breaking the law?

    Last week, billionaire media mogul Mark Cuban (pictured, left) — who doubles as a darn-good blogger — posted the provocative “The Coming Dramatic Decline of YouTube.” In addition to the free bandwidth it provides, there is one reason for YouTube’s success, writes Cuban: Its copyrighted music and video.

    “This so reminds me of the early days of Napster,” writes Cuban. “They were the first to tell you it wasn’t illegal.” But it is, he says:

    The fact that Youtube is building a traffic juggernaut around copyrighted audio and video without being sued is like . . . well Napster at the beginning as the labels were trying to figure out what it meant to them. With the MGM vs Grokster ruling, its just a question of when Youtube will be hit with a charge of inducing millions of people to break copyright laws , not if . . . .

    Take away all the copyrighted material and you take away most of Youtube’s traffic. Youtube turns into a hosting company with a limited video portal. Like any number of competitors out there that decided to follow copyright law . . . Youtube, we hardly knew you.

    The WSJ reported last week on a revenue-sharing deal that YouTube announced with Warner Music, as a first step to give other media outlets more control over the video on the site and to allay fears that others will profit from consumers’ piracy of their content. The company announced it’s rolling out technology designed to automatically spot copyrighted material that users upload without the permission of media companies, and then to share ad revenue with those companies.

    Cuban’s blogs received 95 comments. Let’s add to that. Is YouTube the next Napster?

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