The Japanese content providers request that YouTube take down nearly 30,000 videos (who had to sit through that lot?) comes at the end of copyright week.
Copyright issues have been prevalent and they've been tied up with issues of economic viability and the role of free upload/download sites that currently dominate the web, making this the number one issue in web economics. Behind it lies the viability of YouTube, Google, and independent video production.
Let's try to unpick the issues.
The first is this: Is the online videocast market viable? Robert Scoble (see link above) today explained that his own vidcasts are not – not yet anyway – economically viable. The cost of creating and streaming his videos far outstrips the revenue potential right now. The cost just of delivery alone outstrips revenue potential.
What does this say about YouTube? That by and large its viability rests on video that is costing nothing to its participants. That does not always mean that the videos themselves have cost nothing. Pirated video undoubtedly has a cost — borne by someone else. Hence we see a request for 30,000 videos to be taken down. So much is obvious.
While that's been going on, a couple of authors, Andrew keen and Charles Cooper, have been berated by respected and careful critics for daring to say that the current wave of the web is built on theft.
So let's summarise so far. Luminaries like Robert Scoble cannot make video on the web work economically, even with their advertising and audience pull. The economics are against him.
YouTube is assumed to be worth $1.65 billion yet it relies on pirated content to a degree we cannot ascertain. What we can conjecture is that it is not viable without pirated content.
Raising this theft issue invites ridicule — something here doesn't add up.
Copyright also emerged this week as an issue for top flight talent like the Beatles and in actions taken by the music industry against 8,000 illegal filesharers.
The other side of the coin is that many media enterprises don't respect authors' copyright. Copyright abuse by newspapers in Europe is not uncommon. When it applies to freelance writers there is a wrongful assumption that a newspaper can sell and resell in the print and onlline syndication market without reverting to the content producer.
What we're seeing is an exercise in power. Powerful media can squash the rights of individuals. On the other hand, when their rights are challenged, they come over heavy.
We tend to take the "technology first" view of this — we have the technology to share files so we should; likewise newspapers can exploit the technology of databases to continually resell content, so they should. But rights are trampled on in the process. There's no point in ignoring that. It's like assuming vidcasting is viable. It seems to be until you try it without a loss maker called YouTube.
At the same time it's clear YouTube has a viable model open to it. It involves:
- Providing a high quality video hosting service for a fee or on ad revenue share.
- Providing ad sales and sharing enough of those sales to make vidcasting viable.