Thursday, January 22, 2009

YouTube - the new copyright cop!

The copyright ©law cometh! The blogosphere is abuzz with news about the new YouTube policy of "muting" videos that contain copyrighted music. Very few videos have been affected by this policy so far but the potential is mindboggling!! Our students and other teachers may begin to see us as the copyright information specialists we are and no longer as the "copyright cops" they have perceived us to be. "There's a new Sheriff in town."

According to a Rolling Stone article, "YouTube Hits the Mute Button as Royalty Fight with Warner Bros. Continues" the policy currently only affects Warner Music Group releases. Videos being muted are tagged with the comment, “This video contains an audio track that has not been authorized by all copyright holders. The audio has been disabled.” They further report, "YouTube said in a statement issued after the muting began, 'Now we’ve added an additional choice. Instead of automatically removing the video from YouTube, we give users the option to modify the video by removing the music subject to the copyright claim and post the new version, and many of them are taking that option.'"

Both those who post to and who watch and listen to YouTube will feel the pain. As a consumer of music and video, I empathize with these users and will miss the popular, high-quality audio, but as an educator I am in full support of this policy and hope that it extends to all protect all studio releases. I have agreed before that our copyright law is in need of massive revision but I have also advocated strongly that creators should be allowed to earn a profit from their creations! Adding popular music, purchased or "borrowed," to videos and publishing them for mass consumption without compensation to the creator of that music is, by any reasonable revision of the law, infringement.

As teachers and librarians teaching in "project based" environments, we allow some level of legal (within the confines of the classroom) copyright infringement. Our students do not understand, though, that using an audio clip on their class video project is legal but posting the same clip to YouTube is not. It has been our responsibility to try to explain this concept, but lacking any form of evidence of the illegality by peers or providers on the Web, the explanations have fallen on deaf ears. We have been the nagging, copyright cops. A solid and sincere effort by You Tube, and other video hosting sites, to mute illegal posting of copyrighted music will not only protect creators, but will lend credence to librarians, and others who have assumed a responsibility for informing the public about the laws and attempting to protect creators.

Will this be the end of YouTube and publicly shared videos as we know them? I think not. It will be an obstacle to be hurdled. Many current users will, initially look for other hosting sites or ways to get around the filters. Beware the abusive and pornographic comments being added to every unmoderated blog and discussion group covering this story! Eventually though, this, like many obstacles we face, could make the system stronger and better. I will not attempt to predict specifics of the future, but feel confident that amateur created streaming video will mature and grow as a medium of entertainment and education for years to come.

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