The Ethical Dilemma That Is YouTube

I received an interesting e-mail today from someone who had seen a video I posted to YouTube some time ago. It probably was embedded in one of my posts about Soupy Sales, who, sadly, passed away last week. This blog usually gets 200-300 hits per day. On Friday, the number of visitors increased tenfold. That’s a tribute to Soupy, of course, that has nothing to do with me.

Anyway, here’s the e-mail:

…I have a video that was recorded from television back in 1978……the guest was [someone] I used to work for. Upon [that person's] death, I created a memorial w/photos and such for his family, and also put the interview [into] this. I’d like to put it on YouTube, and have no idea… if I do this, will it be OK? Just a regular guy trying to share this w/the world…..your thoughts? Thanks.

And here’s my reply:

YouTube requests that anyone who posts a video on their site be the person who created the video or owns the rights to the video. Everyone ignores this, most especially YouTube itself, which, once you subtract the funny home videos, is an empire built on copyright infringement. Don’t listen to anyone who says “it’s OK,” because it’s not. But YouTube usually looks the other way.

I think many people who post to YouTube, myself included, simply want to share something they have that others might like to see. Legally, it makes no difference whether you post something in order to make money or you’re just looking to share. But reasonable people can draw a distinction between something shared just for the pleasure of doing so… versus something posted in an attempt to capitalize on someone else’s creative work.

YouTube actually sent me an e-mail today about the Soupy video. Incredibly, here’s what it said:

Your video has become popular on YouTube, and you’re eligible to apply for the YouTube Partnership Program, which allows you to make money from playbacks of your video.

Once you’re approved, making money from your video is easy. Here’s how it works: First sign into your YouTube account. Then, complete the steps outlined [at a web address]. Once you’re finished, we’ll start placing ads next to your video and pay you a share of the revenue as long as you meet the program requirements. We look forward to adding your video to the YouTube Partnership Program. Thanks and good luck!

Wow! If the video was mine, I might take them up on their offer. But I won’t do that in this case, because there’s no reason I should profit from something I didn’t create. I’m simply sharing something I like; I’m saying have a look, isn’t this great? Oh, I’ll make a few comments, but really, this has nothing to do with me, and to turn it into a source of income would be wildly disrespectful to the memory of Soupy Sales – an entertainer I loved.

So what am I saying? I once asked myself exactly that. I spent a couple of hours trying to succinctly capsulize my philosophy on this issue, and the result appears at the bottom of every page of this blog:

This non-profit, ad-free blog seeks to promote interest in, and enhance the value of, any and all copyrighted properties (appearing here in excerpt-only form) for the exclusive benefit of their respective copyright owners.

In other words, if my clip reminds you how much you love Soupy… go out and buy his autobiography… or get someone to re-release the DVD’s that have shot up to over 200 dollars on Amazon over the last couple of days… or write a letter to someone urging the official release of the full TV shows from Soupy’s personal archive as well as the movie “Birds Do It,” which I’ve never even been able to see!

I’m not a lawyer, and I don’t think anyone would object to your posting your [video], which is not to say that someone might not do precisely that. It sounds like sharing is what you have in mind, and – at least for those of us who post videos – that’s what YouTube is all about. Of course, in sharing our videos, YouTube makes money, none of which it forwards to the copyright owners.

- Don

I had another interesting communication from YouTube recently: I posted a birthday video – a picture montage I had put together for a party. For a soundtrack, I used a Fleetwood Mac song.

That, YouTube flagged instantaneously and immediately eliminated, pointing out that Warner owns the rights to that song. True enough. But wouldn’t it be nice… wouldn’t it be appropriate… wouldn’t it be smart for YouTube to strike a bargain with the copyright holders to the effect that when YouTube detects one of your songs being used as a soundtrack, it will ask the person who posted it to pay a minimal, non-commercial, YouTube-only fee of a couple of bucks, a fraction of which YouTube would keep as a commission? I certainly would have been happy to pay a fee rather than post a soundless video.

At a time when the music industry needs to develop new streams of revenue, it seems only logical. It would take hard work to hammer out an agreement; it would be time-consuming and legally complicated. But here we have history repeating itself: the entertainment companies fought downloading, then gave away the store when Steve Jobs came up with iTunes. Instead of offering the answer “you can’t do that,” the rights owners should come up with a plan where you can do that, in a way that directs revenue to the artists and organizations that deserve it.

Or am I missing something? What do you think?

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3 comments to The Ethical Dilemma That Is YouTube

  • Lee Hartsfeld

    No, your idea is brilliant. Which is why it will never fly.

    It makes too much sense, and it's likely to work. Such suggestions will not be tolerated.

    Thanks for a vastly entertaining post.

  • Duncanmusic

    Geez, I got sabout five totally correct, but a couple after second chances, but that was the HARDEST musical trivia quiz I've yet to take. Most of the Facebook quizzes I'm tortured with are easy to ace or at least get over 85% (I worked for 37 years in record stores and have collected since I was 8 and I'm 58 now.) Thanks to Lee for the link to this site. I liked the YouTube articles also.

  • Fresca

    I was just browsing through your site having found it searching for Nichols & May—thank you for posting links to their recordings!

    You've probably seen by now (?) that youTube and Warner have struck a deal
    though supposedly that was in September and last month I still couldn't post a video that has a snippet of an Otis Redding song on it (owned by Warner).
    Your story about youTube offering to pay you for Soupy Sales vid is a perfect example of what a mess this all is. Can't you just imagine a Nichols & May sketch about this!?!