Why the YouTube/Viacom Suit Really Matters
News pages this week were filled with news that YouTube's closest partner, CBS owner Viacom, had turned on the video sharing site -- putting its foot down in a $1-billion lawsuit over the cutesy way it has avoided responsibility for all the unauthorized content filling its pages.
In the process, Viacom is challenging two important ideas championed by YouTube that symbolize how digital media is totaly destabilizing more conventional media systems.
Number 1: That media content should be freely available to users whenever they want it. The problem with this approach is that it costs money to create content, and when those who create it don't get paid, they won't be creating content for long.
YouTube has tried to be cute about this distinction, claiming it will remove content whenever copyright owners complain -- well aware that popular video clips will be uploaded continually by users, and the lag between complaints and removal will ensure users can access all the unauthorized content they want.
Big media companies tolerated this as long as they could -- CBS even had its own channel on the service. But in the end, they realized a simple truth that sunk the music industry: train the audience to believe your content is free, and you'll never get them to pay for it again.
Number 2: That companies which help users pass along copyrighted content for free aren't doing anything wrong. I love the convenience and utility of YouTube as much as the next web surfer, but it -- and many other media sites -- are based on an ethic that is killing media businesses. Somebody has to pay for media content, and the constant devaluing of stuff that takes lots of time and money to develop only dooms the future of the medium.
DEGGANS PunditWatch tonight on Florida This Week:
Look for me tonight on Rob Lorei's WEDU show Florida This Week, discussing election results, voting machine irregularities and the proposed settlements in the death of Martin Lee Anderson.