Newsweek article on “The Battle over YouTube”

October 2, 2006

News:  The buzz over YouTube continues.  I’ve already chronicled the past week’s stories in Forbes, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and even Saturday Night Live.  This week’s Newsweek also contains a story, entitled “The Battle over YouTube.” 

Tech reporter Brad Stone asks:  “The video-sharing site is the hottest start-up since Google.  Is it worth a billion dollars, or is it just another company in need of a business model?”

Stone’s article is well worth a read.  He identifies the 2 major challenges for YouTube: (1) handling the copyright issue over unauthorized use of copyrighted content in a way that satisfies the media industries (or at least avoids crushing liability), and (2) developing a sustainable business plan amidst an ever competitive field of video sharing sites. 

Analysis:  I found the most revealing part of the article, the opening paragraph.  Stone reveals just how small the physical operation of YouTube is:

“Warner Music, the fourth largest music company in the world, has every reason to wage business and legal warfare against popular video-sharing site YouTube. The Internet upstart gives its 34 million users free access to songs and videos from the label’s entire stable of artists, including Madonna and Green Day. But instead of hostility, Warner digital-strategy exec Alex Zubillaga says he felt something like sympathy during a recent dealmaking visit to the firm’s Silicon Valley headquarters. YouTube’s 60 employees—who share a grand total of 10 landline phones—are so crammed into small offices over a pizzeria in downtown San Mateo that Zubillaga says, ‘I almost felt bad for them.'”

Google, of course, started in a garage. But YouTube over a pizzeria?  That’s not what I imagined.  Anyways, there’s little wonder why YouTube is hiring.

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Wall Street Journal on “Whose Tube? Arts Tube!”

October 2, 2006

News:  Wall Street Journal drama critic Terry Teachout gives a forceful defense here of YouTube, against copyright detractors, all in the name of art and allowing snippets of old footage of great jazz artists on YouTube. 

“In recent months, jazz-loving friends have been sending me YouTube links to videos by Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and other celebrated artists, most of them drawn from films of the ’30s and ’40s and TV shows of the ’50s and ’60s. Some of this material is available on DVD, but most of it lingered in limbo until Chad Hurley and Steve Chen, YouTube’s co-founders, made it possible for anyone with a computer to post and view video clips at will. Fascinated by the links unearthed by my friends, I spent the better part of a long weekend trolling through YouTube in search of similar material. When I was done, I’d found hundreds of videos, some extremely rare and all compulsively watchable, posted by collectors from all over the world.”

Teachout recognizes that some of the video clips may be copyrighted, but argues that copyright holders should recognize the benefit of allowing the short clips to be shared.  “As any economist can tell you, supply creates its own demand. Disseminating high-culture TV and radio programming for free via the Web is among the simplest and most cost-effective ways to expand the audience for the fine arts. Every time a Web surfer in South Dakota or South Africa views a YouTube video by Louis Armstrong or Arturo Toscanini, he’s making a discovery that could change his life — not to mention his concert-going and record-buying habits. I can’t think of a better bargain.”

Teachout has created links to the videos on this website.

Analysis:  Dealing with works that are over fifty years old presents an interesting issue.  My guess is that millions of people haven’t ever seen some of these videos, and probably don’t even know they exist.  To the extent that brief clips from these older works on YouTube can make them known, Teachout’s argument has greater purchase.   I wonder if the copyright holders sitting on all these old videos that are probably collecting dust would think to release at least some of them freely to the public, even before the copyrights expire.  Probably not, but it’s worth thinking about.