Today’s NPR segment, “On YouTube, Popularity Can Be a Curse” discussed intellectual property issues in our era of YouTube-posted videos and antiquated copyright laws. One of the main points was that as YouTube videos become “viral hits,” they often draw higher levels of scrutiny which can result in legal demands to take them offline– especially if they include copyrighted content from television.

Jason Fry, assistant managing editor for WSJ.com, asserts in the piece that YouTube is revolutionary because it makes “something that used to be hideously difficult” (posting video to the web, viewing video on the web, and embedding web video in other webpages) relatively easy. He fears, however, that copyright laws could eventually descend and put an end to the popular site. The fact that Google has bought YouTube, however, suggests (to me at least) that savvy lawyers are and will continue to be involved in the ways YouTube license agreements are crafted and content is actively vetted on the site.

The show also included an interview with Fritz Grobe, one of the creators of the now famous Diet Coke and Mentos video (originally posted on EepyBird.) Fritz tells the story of how his movie was grabbed by others, the credits were cut off, and it took months to get YouTube to remove the bootlegged versions which were edited/remixed without permission. Still, those copies were eventually removed successfully, and Fritz (along with his partner in Mentos/Diet Coke fame) are performing in Las Vegas as well as other venues. Apparently a Mentos/Diet Coke sequel is in the works, and will be released officially through Google– and the NPR piece suggests that money traded hands in this deal. So while this side-story involves some whining (“they took my video and removed my credits without permission”) it also seems to have a very happy ending– at least in financial terms for the original video’s creators.

As James Boyle of Duke University noted following that interview, however, the big question is the “And so….” question. Is an Internet with greater levels of control the solution we should be pushing for? An Internet which permitted perfect control over content by content creators might not have permitted a viral video phenomenon like the “Coke and Mentos Fountain” video to ever happen in the first place as a viral video. Would we all be better off without the potential for viral videos to be shared around the world like a flash in the pan? I don’t think so. Our digital environment isn’t perfect today, and IP law certainly needs some revision, but I’m glad we don’t live in a regime where content creators have absolute control. Creative Commons as well as traditional copyright licensing permit content owners to still possess and defend substantial rights to their content. The most exciting thing about the Internet is the aspect of empowering people to discover and share their own voices. I don’t think you can put a pricetag on that.

As I’ve noted before, we live in an era where people can PUBLISH AT WILL. Relevance is and will increasingly be a function of digital accessibility. You want to be relevant? Give away your ideas. Want to become irrelevant? Create a walled garden that keeps out more people than it lets in. You’ll be sure to limit your audience, and therefore reduce your relevance and potential impact on the world.

Sharing ideas. It’s what the Internet was founded for, and what it is still all about. Now if we can just find ways to convince our local school boards of this, and the desirability of involving our students and teachers in this process of collaborative and interactive content creation…..


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  • Raj

    It would be nice if more people would think that way. There are many that still believe that if it’s not paid for in some manner (behind a walled garden) it’s not worth anything. These people are also often those that promote the subscription model (think about all the newspapers that only put out one or two stories for free and then charge for the rest). In the end, the problem with the idea that we should all share and work together is that everyone wants to (in some manner) recoup their investment. For many people (aka corporations), an exchange of ideas is not enough.

    For schools, I think it is important however that we get our students and teachers into the share and share alike ethos, because that is where we can change things and move toward a world where it’s not the knowledge that you possess that is the most important, but rather how you can apply it. It’s going to be a bit of a slippery slope in terms of how knowledge based products (like a paper, or a posting) are available to be shared, but I think we can look at the traditional citation model as a way to ascribe value.

  • Nick

    Open spaces. It is what the West is about, what it was always about, the true pioneer spirit. Ask the Indians about how you share stuff and hope others will think that way, expect others to think that way. Until they “share” their blankets with you.

    The fence builders are coming, and they will not be easy to stop. It’s no use thinking like Neil Young “If we think real hard maybe we can stop this rain”. Blogging here is preaching to the converted, are the legislators watching? No they are talking to the railroad builders back East.

    The Internet will be fenced off and controlled by the likes of Blackboard unless everyone stops blogging and starts lobbying.

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