Can Communities Better Police Copyright? – by “Daniel A”

Source: http://tctechcrunch.files.wordpress.com/2010/03/stealitshot.png

Six years ago today Youtube.com launched as a video dating site out of then-CEO Chad Hurley’s garage in Menlo Park, CA (you can see what it looked like here). In its early days the founders did everything they could think of to try to get people to start using the site, including offering money to girls via Craigslist to post videos and attract more male viewers.

After realizing that the market for video dating services wasn’t all that hot the company changed focus to a new model that centered on letting people share videos easily online. The site made a number of strategic decisions in its early days which led to enormous growth in its userbase including using Flash to encode videos on the site (making them accessible to users across browsers and operating systems), implementing social tools to better engage the community (commenting, video responses) and, probably most importantly, allowing videos to be embedded in other sites on the web.

While innovation in design definitely gave Youtube an advantage over competing video sites in its early days, another important reason for its growth was the massive amount of copyrighted content that it carried. As noted in the Viacom v. Youtube case, although the site put a number of controls in place to make sure it abided by DMCA regulations in order to qualify for safe harbor protections, early on it didn’t ban or remove content unless a copyright owner submitted a DMCA takedown notice which left policing the site up to copyright holders and allowed copyrighted content to remain on the site for extended periods of time.

Interestingly, a number of other video sites were cropping up around the same time, many of which were able to build just as active and vibrant communities as Youtube, but differed slightly in their approach. The most notable example is Vimeo.com which actually launched in the Fall of 2004. The site’s primary focus has always been on allowing people to share original content with family and friends. Although it lacked some of the features that Youtube implemented early on which prevented it from getting as wide of distribution and usage, the site also banned commercial videos from its inception and seemed more focused on curating a community of artists/videographers. As a result, the site built a community that was much smaller but also much less inclined to share copyrighted content.

The story of Vimeo seems to suggest that even though both Youtube and Vimeo had similar policies with respect to DMCA regulations that the nature of content actually changed as a result of design and community standards. Because Youtube sought broad rapid adoption, it optimized its site and its videos for getting as many views as possible across the web which may have actually hurt its ability to create a self-policing community of users to minimize copyright abuses. On the contrary, by fostering a small tight knit community with strong standards Vimeo was able to push users to share only original content.

Although Youtube arguably won the web video war it is interesting to note that, given the right incentives, a strong community-based approach to copyright management could actually lead to better outcomes for artists/creators than the caustic use of DMCA takedown notices.

4 thoughts on “Can Communities Better Police Copyright? – by “Daniel A”

  1. I wonder if Facebook would be the most effective community for policing copyright work. Facebook accounts tie with real-world identities which makes it less likely people would upload copyright materials (though they may share it). This could explain why Facebook original video usage has been largely around personal stuff rather than copyrighted material.

    This also makes Google’s forays into social all the more interesting. As they start tying Youtube accounts to Google accounts (and soon enough personal social identities), you have to wonder if the types and amount of uploaded files will change over time.

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  2. It’s interesting to consider what it is that causes one site to take off instead of its rivals. Sometimes it’s just random chance – word of mouth can take off exponentially, so it’s whichever one gets the critical mass first. But I think you’re right that Youtube’s success, in addition to its simple interface (anyone ever try to use Google’s version back in the day? It was awful), is partly due to the fact that anything was allowed. It still draws a lot of traffic from copyrighted material, such as songs, although I believe it’s allowed to have such videos posted.

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  3. I think it’s also interesting to note that, because Vimeo was started as this smaller, community-based forum for users, it especially appealed to bloggers for uploading their creations. The first blog styles (which are now becoming rarer) were more dedicated to personal collections of photos, entries from trips, project updates, etc. More recent and popular blogs are focusing on simply consolidating similar materials from other sites and fellow bloggers (pictures, articles, videos), adding a catchy name, and branding it as their own with an occasional opinion or comment.
    As the blogging network is growing, more users simply recycle material from other blogs and post it to their own. Many people forget to give credit to the creator, or simply link the work on their own blog. Although a lesser percentage of Vimeo material is infringed upon upload, bloggers are creating another means of copyright infringement through this massive sharing network.

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  4. I think it’s also interesting to note that, because Vimeo was started as this smaller, community-based forum for users, bloggers were especially inclined to use it for uploading their creations. The first individual blog styles (which are now becoming rare) were more dedicated to personal collections of photos, entries from trips and projects,etc. More recent and popular blogs are now focusing on simply consolidating similar material from other sites and fellow blogger (pictures, articles, videos), adding a catchy name and branding it as their own. Many bloggers routinely forget to give credit to the original creator or simply link the work to it’s original site. As the blogging network is growing, many users simply recycle material from others and post it to their site. Although a lesser percentage of Vimeo material is infringed upon upload, bloggers are creating another means of copyright infringement through this massive sharing network.

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