A Look at YouTube [4:59 pm]
I am not a collector of music, or of video. I have had friends play me the best clips from their music video collections, in full, collectorish, this-will-freak-you-out mode, and enjoyed it. Still, I don’t really love music on video, per se. It reduces a performance so brutally.
But a missing link of performance history as potent as that George Clinton thing? Even if on bad video? It’s hard not to keep looking. Over the last few weeks, I have been looking at YouTube until my head hurts.
If the copyright holder of a video that has been bootlegged complains about an illegal upload on YouTube, said Chad Hurley, the company’s chief executive, it will immediately shut down the link, thereby canceling anyone’s ability to see it then and thereafter — because nobody has downloaded it. [...]
[...] The lack of information with these music clips is a logistical problem. There are also, obviously, legal and ethical problems with many of the clips on YouTube. David Peck of Reelin’ In the Years Productions, which calls itself the largest library of music footage in the world, owns rights to some of the clips that have been uploaded to YouTube without proper rights clearance. Among these are clips of Howlin’ Wolf performing at the American Folk Blues Festival in 1964, which have been commercially released on DVD.
Mr. Peck was aware of YouTube and said he had two reactions to the situation. “One is ‘You jerks, you have no right,’ ” he said. “We pay the Howlin’ Wolf estate when we sell that DVD. The other is, ‘What can I do?’ I’m not a big company. I have fought many big companies before who have used my footage and I’ve won every single time. I protect the rights. But there are so many bootleggers out there. I am not condoning this. But if it takes me $5,000 in legal fees, I’ve blown my next couple of royalty checks.”
Informed that YouTube was a company with employees, not just a fly-by-night Web site, Mr. Peck changed his tone. “That’s a different story,” he said. “That’s very disturbing.”
A spokesman for the Recording Industry Association of America maintained the organization’s blanket position: that uploading or distributing copyrighted material, without permission from the copyright holder, is illegal.
Whitney Broussard, an entertainment lawyer specializing in music, says YouTube seems to be protected by a safe harbor in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998, which says that in such cases with streaming media, if the copyright holder protests and asks YouTube to shut down the link, and if the company promptly complies, then it is legally clear. (Ms. Supan of YouTube said the same thing.)
[...] It’s stupefying to know what’s out there. Perhaps its shady proliferation will hasten official, high-quality versions, videos that do not provoke headaches and could properly expand everybody’s understanding of history’s greatest performing artists.
“I don’t think there would be a market for all this stuff on YouTube,” Mr. Peck said, “if everyone — artists, labels, publishers and rights holders — could get together and find reasonable ways to release it.”