08 November 2011

A Question for YouTube (quasi-s.978/copyright related)

I'd never heard of this until a YouTube partner by the name of The Archfiend pointed it out. Apparently, a common (or once common) trend on YouTube was for people to post a comment, either on a video or a user's channel page, to the extent of "Sub4Sub" meaning, "If you subscribe to me, I shall return the favor."

For reasons that probably shouldn't have to be explained or explored in any great detail, this is really annoying, unfair, and, in the case of those asking, downright pathetic. Put simply, their channels are so bad, so borderline invisible, and so obnoxiously underwhelming that they have to ask people to subscribe to their channel in exchange for their pretend patronage.

Luckily, YouTube, in a moment of genuine interest in the goings-on of their site, decided this had to stop, and not only said as much, but literally found a way to prevent it. Now, if someone types "sub for sub" or anything along those lines, the comment does not post. The pathetic excuse for a human being begging for attention will get an error message that the comment cannot be posted due to an "internal error" which is a polite way of saying, "Get a damn life, you scum-sucking bottom-feeder." This technology isn't actually new, as many web-hosting services and a few online games have filters in place that seek out specific words and either erase them, or replace them with something else. It's typically reserved for obscenity and various foul terms, but YouTube has discovered it can also be used to keep people from mooching off of others. Again, genius.

YouTube also has a program that can "listen for" copyrighted music in videos and either mute the video or, as is more often the case, send you an e-mail asking if you'd like to allow a link to a legitimate download service (like iTunes or Amazon) to be posted alongside your video. Of course, it's not really a question, just a kind of gentle warning. They'll only post the link if they can actually get the rights to the song, otherwise they go with the muting option. In essence, they're trying to work with you, reach an agreement of sorts with the record labels so they don't take you to court for all you're worth plus interest. I've always felt the "free publicity" defense often used by people who use copyrighted music illegally in their videos is incredibly weak, tantamount to the spoiled child throwing a temper tantrum and screaming, "You never loved me!" but somehow YouTube has found a way to make it work. I may not approve of a compromise like this, but that's not the same as opposing it.

And yet, despite these capabilities at YouTube's disposal to help both its community and entertainment providers, I still see users posting full movies either in parts of around 10, or even, with the recent set of site changes of late, in single uploads. Granted, with the way the DMCA works, YouTube can't officially make a move against the offending user unless the original copyright holder files a formal complaint, a condition I consider akin to taking someone's car keys and throwing them in the river, insisting that it is not grand theft auto as the car is exactly where it was when the owner originally parked it and no one else has the keys. YouTube has created a kind of relatively safe haven for people to post videos that are not their own yet claims total immunity for what people do with it. Fair in principle, possibly, but jury's out on the practice. The point is, if they're willing to actively work and cooperate with record labels before any legal paperwork is filed, and set up parameters that flag comments for spam, why isn't there a means for automatically flagging videos that are of full-length feature films? Where's the misgiving about what exactly is going on with that user's channel? Sure, clips are tough to peg down as offending because they're only a short portion and often given at least a little context, such as hosting the video on a weblog for review or critique and putting a link to the journal in the description. Exhibiting the film in full, however, hardly counts as fair use, regardless of any attached analysis.

Copyright is far from a black and white issue, but it's not a complete gray area, either.
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