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YouTube on the NYT

YoutubeYouTube mystifies me. While I’ve always been skeptical of online video, I have to admit, YouTube is a boon just on the Michel Gondry video front alone. However, I don’t understand how they can expect to survive and actually make money.

Their business model seems to depend on two things. First, building an online video technology that actually works. Why this was so hard to do baffles me, but even Apple and Google couldn’t deliver online videos that didn’t take minutes to start and then still stop randomly to rebuffer. Plus, being supplied with a snippit of HTML that you can drop into your blog to make a playable movie object is actually a pretty slick idea.

At the same time, though, the company is founded on massive, blatant copyright violation. Now, they would seem to be technically inside the law, as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act states only that providers must take down material when the copyright holders complain. Which YouTube apparently does. But it’s clear the company wouldn’t exist without the copyright violation, and it seems to me that eventually they will cost someone enough sales or advertising revenue that it becomes worth it to go after them. Imagine YouTube not too many years from now, with people ripping and uploading DVD-quality movies that anyone can watch with the click of a button. Maybe the studios will be happy to scour the site constantly and send notices to YouTube every time a kid in Florida uploads Spider-Man 4. But I doubt it, particularly when YouTube is collecting ad revenue for hosting it. On the other hand, the user-generated video is so lame, that if it weren’t for the copyright violations, YouTube’s audience would be confined to a few bored teenagers.

Anyway, the New York Times has an interesting, though completely speculative, article about the phenomenon that has all the geeks scratching their heads. It’ll be interesting to see how this all turns out. Maybe we’ll enter a brave new world where consumers refrain from piracy and the studios and labels don’t act like mad dogs, and I can keep watching my Smiths shows and Atari commercials and Russ Meyer film trailers unmolested. Because that’s pretty damn cool.

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