Wednesday, August 20, 2008

A Need for Screed

The print edition of today's Los Angeles Times ran a remarkably one-sided piece about copyright and digital video titled "Waltzing around the piracy issue," which appeared under the more search-engine friendly headline "YouTube and the irrepressible dream of Video ID" in the online version of the paper.

Variations of the word "pirate" appear no fewer than five times to describe what seems to be largely innocuous fan behavior and no mention is made of fair use for educational or critical purposes of film clips or the fact that these clips from network news often constitute an important part of contemporary political speech or parody, which is Constitutionally protected. Nor is any mention made of the problems that always happen when automated bots do the work that human beings normally handle in recognizing context, interpreting intent, etc.

About the only interesting bit of actual news in the story involved how owners to the rights to the film Dirty Dancing were allowing clips like this one on YouTube to test the waters. Of course, the reporter totally missed the role that fan homages play in the YouTube universe and the fact that it is this version of Dirty Dancing shot at a British wedding that has received far more views. Should this be called "piracy" because it uses copyrighted music or "homage," since it had a transmedia life of its own that included the appearance of the couple on Oprah dancing with the film's original star Patrick Swayze?

Much of this tiresomely sarcastic article is strangely taken up with complaining about the reporter's travails in attempting to present multiple points of view about the issue.

I called around to major media companies, thinking everyone would be excited to talk about this equitable and innovative solution. But no one seemed to want to discuss it. CBS declined to comment, as did Viacom (perhaps understandably, given its $1-billion lawsuit against YouTube).

Although content from Fremantle Media (“American Idol”) and World Wrestling Entertainment Inc. often pops up on YouTube, neither company said they had anything to contribute. Even EA, an early adopter of the technology, did not return a string of e-mails and phone calls — all the more strange considering that YouTube offered a direct contact there.

YouTube also recommended I contact NBC Universal for its thoughts. But when I reached the conglomerate’s general counsel, Rick Cotton, he didn’t seem to have heard about any revolution.

The reporter also seems to be in serious denial about the future of online news:

Sites such as are not complaining about the growing waves of monetizable traffic Digg is sending their way free. Who wouldn’t buy into a model like that?

I've been debating about whether to cancel my subscription to the Los Angeles Times after many decades of loyal readership in the face of their tabloid tactics, Facebook journalism, lousy technology coverage, firing of reporters and closing of foreign bureaus, terrible online edition, invasive e-mail spam from advertisers, and contemptuous treatment of subscribers (thanks guys for trying to charge my credit card without my permission and for leaving papers on my lawn during a week-long vacation hold). Maybe this will be the final straw.

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