Siva Vaidhyanathan: What we might lose from YouTube to GooTube

October 26, 2006

News:  New York University Professor Siva Vaidhyanathan writes this probing article discussing what might be the fallout from Google’s acquisition of YouTube.  He writes:

“I suspect that we will look back on the heady days of anything-goes-user-generated content with much nostalgia. That does not mean that YouTube will change radically over night. Nor does it mean that YouTube will cease to be the major site of user-posted-and-created video clips. It just is unlikely to be quite as noisy and silly.

“It’s not that YouTube now must behave like a grown up company. It’s more that YouTube is becoming the central battlefield in the next great struggle to define the terms and norms of digital communication. So it’s retrenching in preparation for that battle.

“And every week that ‘GooTube’ grows in cultural and political importance, the more stories we hear of important video clips coming down.”

Analysis:  In the interest of full disclosure, I know Siva and always find his writing to be filled with nice insights.  The same holds true here.  For starters, Siva is quite careful in not exaggerating the extent to which YouTube has changed, post Google-deal — unlike a lot of other more sensationalistic articles out there.  Also, I agree that YouTube is a key battleground “in the next great struggle to define the terms and norms of digital communications.”  That’s 100% right, in my view.

I do disagree, though, with Siva’s suggestion that YouTube should not have removed a copyrighted news clip that discussed Rep. Heather Wilson and her possible coverup of the file of her husband in an alleged sexual abuse of a minor.  The copyrighted clip was posted without authorization of the news station that created it, and, after the news station complained, YouTube apparently removed it.  Siva argues that the use of the news clip was an open-and-shut case of fair use.  I wish the law of fair use were so clear, but, quite frankly, it’s not.  In fact, some case law points against a fair use, although in that case there was a clear commercial use of the video clip.  See L.A. News Service v. Reuters Television, 149 F.3d 987 (9th Cir. 1998).

But I do agree with most of Siva’s discussion of YouTube’s taking down of Michelle Malkin’s conservative video (before the Google deal, discussed here).  It’s good that YouTube allows users to “flag” “inappropriate” content, but, as Siva identifies, the system has its flaws:   “That means that a virtual community enforces community standards. However, YouTube has no mechanism to debate and work through what those standards should be.”  YouTube has said it’s trying to improve the clarity of the standards.

There’s a lot more that Siva says than I can do justice to.  So go read the article.  He says it better than I could when he concludes:  “So here is my great hope for the Google-YouTube deal: I hope that Google’s boldness and tolerance immediately changes the culture of YouTube. I hope that the YouTube editors grow more confident and less fearful about what they can contribute to the culture of the Web. Meanwhile, it’s up to us to pressure YouTube and Google to keep the Web crazy, fun, and even a little scary.”

United Talent Agency to troll YouTube for talent — good luck!

October 26, 2006

NewsNYT reports that United Talent Agency out in Hollywood has created an online unit whose task is to troll YouTube and other sites for unknown talent.  Employees in the division will get paid, in other words, to watch YouTube videos all day.  The article reports:

“United Talent’s online division, whose initial staff is three 26-year-old agents promoted from assistant, will operate independently from the main agency, said Jeremy Zimmer, a founder and director of the company. Defying industry conventions, agents will welcome unsolicited submissions (preferably as Web links), show existing clients’ output on a new agency Web site and be free to sign clients without the approval of the more-established departments.”

Analysis:  I’m all in favor of discovering unknown talent through the Internet.  But have you watched some of the videos on YouTube?  Needle in a haystack.

Truthiness report: YouTube has not turned evil

October 26, 2006

News:  Countering some of the recent anti-You Tube press reports, Charles Arthur of The Guardian restores some truth in reporting:  “The truth? YouTube hasn’t changed at all, only people’s perceptions or expectations of it. The company states in its user agreement that uploading copyrighted material is illegal, and a similar warning appears before you upload a clip. But of course, fewer than 1% of its users upload anything. No wonder they don’t know. ”

Analysis:  One thing I’ve learned over the past month in reading dozens and dozens of news articles about YouTube:  there’s a lot of questionable, if not downright bad, “journalism” out there.  Legal issues are often reported with a very thin understanding of the law, while a good number of articles tend to accentuate whatever can generate readers — that typically means something bad or dramatic.  I hate to sound like some radical or curmudgeon, but it’s sometimes hard to find good journalism in the media.  That’s why I think this whole blogging phenomenon has taken hold.