Siva Vaidhyanathan: What we might lose from YouTube to GooTube

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.”

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