youtube, itube, theytube, wealltube

ben ratliff wrote about a relatively new video-sharing site, youtube in last weeks nyt. (2/03/06: “A New Trove of Music Video in the Web’s Wild World”) the headline refers to it as a “trove,” a word generally used to describe a collection of valuable items discovered. (the headline also makes light of any legal problems by calling the web a “wild world,” like the lawless west of the nineteenth century).

youtube allows users to upload their music, and then other people download. the company has a staff of 20 and streams 115 videos a second; needless to say clips are not monitored unless flagged by site users. once flagged a video is removed. no harm, no foul? (is Youtube a treasure chest?) sort of. owners of some copyrighted material claim that the second a flagged video is down someone else will replace it. furthermore, the legal costs in getting videos removed is steep.

youtube is a mixed bag of treasure, at best. the questions raised by youtube are common to the 21st century. issues of copyright are prominent in the headlines, from google’s work to make the written word available to all (or the first page of it, at least) to the daily riaa lawsuits

current laws aside, should information be made available? do our copyright laws cause undue harm to a public yearning for information? the nyt article claims several times that with youtube.com one can see videos they would never have seen before. this is obviously a good thing, yes?


the problem with such an argument is that it abuses the definition of information. information informs. freedom of information means the ability to be informed of something one otherwise could not.

in the case of youtube videos, most of the material discussed in the article is available to purchase. anyone who is doing scholarly work on a subject certainly has access to it by university, interlibrary loan, ebay, or creditcard. the “live at the apollo” clip mentioned in the nyc article is available in 539 libraries (says worldcat).

what are people using these clips for, then? entertainment, or for information for which they do not wish to pay, or are too lazy/incompetent to go and find at a nearby library. if something is available legally and one is viewing it illegally, one is not championing freedom to information. it’s theft. making moral arguments justifying such theft betrays delusion.

what about information that is truly unavailable? if an estate has decided to withhold naked baby photos from the public, it is their choice. the public does not have the right to see everything a music legend has blown his nose on. if there is something of true importance hidden in a vault, it more than likely is available to scholars upon request. but if a clip provides more entertainment than insight, it should stay hidden.

youtube is not a tool for scholars. videos there normally do not contain information such as recording date or location. rather, youtube is a tool for bootlegging and entertainment. it can be used for good, but is will also be used for bad.

surprisingly, youtube does monitor and immediately remove pornographic. they ought to do the same with blatantly copyrighted materials (clips from the ed sullivan show, for instance). failure to do this implies compliance. (unsurprisingly, this deducation never occured to the nyt author.)

undoubtedly, youtube will grow in popularity until it is sunk by issues of copyright compliance. independent video servers will take its place (there are already many). for the next hundred years, various estates will do their best to sic lawyer on each and every offender. and in the end, the average burgher will be entertained, the occasional burgher will go to jail, and the scholar will have been in the library listening to the music legally the whole time.