The Internet proves to be a godsend innovation that continues to propel humankind into feats and heights never dreamed of half a century ago. Through effective and lightning-quick information dissemination, interconnectivity allows not only linkages between computers but also unity between all people. It shrinks the world, turning disparate cities and countries into virtual neighbours, effectively shrinking the world into a virtual cyberspace. It is able to bridge geographical, physical and cultural gaps between nations, tribes, sects, states and other groupings of man, big or small, influential or otherwise. Collaboration on projects, researches, coding, commerce, politics have never been easier, never been faster. Thoughts, glimpses on truths, and new information may be shared by any Internet user and spread through the breadth of cyberspace as a trickle of water gushes forth to become a stream, then a river, flowing until it reaches the immense oceans beyond.
This ease of uploading and disseminating new information is also the bane of entities that make it their livelihood to provide content or media to the masses. These entities, hereto forth referred to as Content Providers, range from small-time composers, musicians, actors, scriptwriters and the like to massive international moguls that own a majority of the world’s entertainment concerns in the tripartite traditional media. Their works find themselves uploaded by enthusiastic fans at popular Internet portals and spread throughout the world without the original creators being credited or rewarded for their efforts. This phenomenon is part of the total issue called Internet Piracy. This is what the Content Providers face, and for their own vested interests they challenge this threat at every opportune moment.
Internet Piracy is no mean feat, a major topic in itself, with many criminals, victims, and areas of focus. However, this paper is focused to describe only one channel where Internet Piracy happens, the internet portal YouTube. This paper aims to describe what YouTube is, what it stands for, what technologies it stands on, societal drivers it lives on, and the threat or threats it creates for the Content Providers.
YouTube’s official Website is http://www.youtube.com. Its primary service as a website is to be a host for short user-supplied video clips. According to crunchbase.com, “YouTube is the leader in online video, sharing original videos worldwide through a Web experience. YouTube allows people to easily upload and share video clips across the Internet through websites, mobile devices, blogs, and email.” YouTube can be viewed in 14 different languages and user registration is not required to view videos, but is required should a user desire to upload clips. Having the slogan “Broadcast Yourself”, it was ranked by Alexa.com as the third highest website traffic rank behind only Yahoo and Google.
YouTube was founded on February 2005 by former employees of PayPal (a popular online payment gateway provider) Steve Chen, Chad Hurley, and Jawed Karim. Start-up capital was provided by a venture capital outfit called Sequoia Capital. Proving to be an online sensation due to its accessibility and functionality, as by July 2006 “more than 65,000 new videos were being uploaded every day, and that the site was receiving 100 million video views per day” on October 2007 Google purchased the company for a cool 1.65 billion US Dollars.
What makes YouTube technically possible is the liberal reliance on Flash software. Flash is proprietary software originally authored by Macromedia but now developed by Adobe Systems, makers of the popular Acrobat document viewing and authoring software. To view videos from YouTube, users must install a Flash plug-in software into their preferred Internet browser. Once installed, viewers are able to watch clips as they are streamed into the computer. Videos are not directly downloadable from YouTube, but innovative users have created various software that allow the downloading and saving of videos from YouTube to a user’s hard drive. These videos have the file name extension .flv and are not viewable by regular media playback software like Windows Media Player without the correct codec, a computer program capable of encoding and/or decoding a digital data stream or signal. Videos can be shared to other people not only by sending a link to friends and family but also by “embedding” them into a website, or a forum post, or a blog entry.
Users can upload videos with varying file extensions, even those that are designed for mobile phone playback. Uploaded videos have a time limit of ten minutes and a size limit of one gigabyte. The website automatically converts the file into the viewable and stream-able Flash Video format. Before, the aspect ratio (ratio of the width versus the height of the viewing screen) of YouTube videos was 4:3, like a regular television set, and the resolution (measure of the number of pixels in a screen) is a TV-like 320x240. Most recently YouTube adopted an aspect ratio of 16:9, similar to movies seen in a cinema, as well as higher quality resolution of up to 1280x720 in high-definition video clips.
YouTube creates revenue mainly through advertising via means of Google AdSense, a text-based advertising gimmick that can be found in a multitude of websites. Google, YouTube’s owners, has plans of using videos in its role as an online advertising space provider, hence the purchase of YouTube. Revenue generated by YouTube is not material, according to a regulatory filing document by Google. According to some, YouTube pays about one million US Dollars a day for the bandwidth users eat up when streaming videos from the site.
Criticism on YouTube
Like any other websites that offer features exclusive to those who have created an account with them, YouTube maintains several sensitive information about its users, derived mainly from their use of the website. Basically, for every action of any registered user, a trace is left and recorded in the database of YouTube and therefore could be used for future reference with respect to that specific member. For example, with the combination of login names and IP address, YouTube could detect and map out the viewing patterns of its users, disclosing their preferences in viewing video uploads. Furthermore, YouTube could determine how much a user frequent the site to search videos whose content are recorded against him/her, his average use of the site on different time periods (i.e. number of website visits per day, week, month, and so on), and his/her contact information (in order to register in YouTube, the applicant must supply his/her email address for the purpose of verification). This capability of YouTube to ascertain exactly what its users are doing when using their site is greatly criticized as it poses a challenge to the internet privacy of the internet community. Sensitive information about a particular person could be handed to interested parties clandestinely in exchange for royalty fees.
YouTube was established on the very foundation of freedom to share – that is, individuals and entities desiring to contribute to the vast pool of knowledge found in the internet or simply want to display their talents and skills to the whole world could do so by way of video uploading at the minimal cost associated with account registration and internet use. Users would always want to achieve economies of scale by reducing their total cost incurred per minute of uploaded video and promote himself or herself in a wider community base, and as a consequence, more and more videos are uploaded and exchanged between users, some of which begin to lose substance and novelty. For example, it has been found out that some videos are of pornographic, racist, degrading, and discriminating materials. In this situation, freedom in the internet is exercised at the expense of others.
At present condition, the filtering of videos entirely depends not on YouTube per se, but on the users themselves and copyright holders who are regulating the production of their own respective videos. Whenever someone finds a video upload by someone disturbing and offensive, he/she may flag it to label it as irrelevant to any legitimate interest so that such video may not be patronized by the users of YouTube. Nonetheless, under such framework, the filtering rest upon the initiative of the users, excluding the copyright holders, who are actually mostly indifferent to nature of the content of the videos. As a result, YouTube is gradually becoming a depository of video uploads and continuously increasing its collection of literature of questionable and inappropriate content.
Because of challenges to user privacy in the internet and inappropriate contents which are normally offensive to certain sectors of the global society, among others, certain countries and institutions have prohibited their constituents from viewing videos uploaded in YouTube. Countries like China, Morocco, Iran, and Thailand have altogether banned access to this site for reasons generally characterized by the videos’ offensive content to their customs, faith, beliefs, etc. For instance, Turkey has found some materials in the YouTube website insulting Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder and first president of Turkey. On the other hand, Pakistan reacted to the uploaded Danish cartoons about Mohammed which they consider offensive to the Islamic faith by doing the same thing – the country imposed a decree that prohibits the usage of the video-sharing website. Some schools also ban YouTube as they found contents in the site generally irrelevant and some disturbing to students. For example, the University of the Philippines restricts the utilization of YouTube for the students employing the university’s internet connection as it finds the content of the site of no bearing to any educational endeavour.
Before discussing the criticism against YouTube regarding copyrighted material, the concept of Internet Piracy must be defined.
Piracy is basically the use of somebody's intellectual property and refers to unauthorized copying of one's work. With the advancement of technology and the easy access to the World Wide Web, Internet Piracy is now occurring as well. Internet Piracy is the usage of the Internet to illegally copy and distribute unauthorized software. This act happens when the Internet is used to advertise, offer, acquire, or distribute pirated software.
Software is one of the leading products distributed on line, and based on the report published by International Data Corp., the worldwide market for electronic software sales reached $3.5 billion in 1999. Now, piracy is one of the biggest problems of entertainment and software industries, involving the violation of copyright laws.
One journalist in the name of Charles C. Mann explained why Internet piracy has the potential to be vastly more damaging to copyright industries than physical piracy. According to Mann, “To make and distribute a dozen copies of a videotaped film requires at least two videocassette recorders, a dozen tapes, padded envelopes and postage, and considerable patience. And because the copies are tapes of tapes, the quality suffers. But if the film has been digitized into a computer file, it can be E-mailed to millions of people in minutes; because strings of zeroes and ones can be reproduced with absolute fidelity, the copies are perfect. And online pirates have no development costs—they don’t even have to pay for paper or blank cassettes—so they don’t really have a bottom line.”
Internet Piracy was not a big concern until Napster emerged in 1999, an online music service enabling users to trade digital music files. Napster uses peer-to-peer (P2P) networking wherein users can link their computers to other computers all across the network. The growth of online file sharing demonstrates how new technologies pose a fundamental problem for copyright law. Computers and the Internet have made the transmission of information easier than ever before, but the entire copyright system depends on the ability of copyright holders to control the transmission of information—specifically, to control who has the ability to access and copy their work.
Defenders of online file sharing argued that the law about copyright should also be changed, since the Internet revolutionized the way people access information. For those who believe and defend online distribution technologies, MP3 download presents a new way for consumers to try new music. Music sales increase when consumers are exposed to a large variety of products and file sharing technologies. They are able to track the set of albums consumers have potential interest in. This is what sampling or the exposure effect in the economic literature.
In YouTube’s case, since anyone can upload virtually any video in its website at his/her disposition, it is a likely target for copyright infringement attacks. Each of the registered users has the capability of sharing any content they want to do so with the minimal regulation of YouTube. Though YouTube was originally created for the purpose of being the exchange place of unique and original videos in the cyber space, some users actually upload videos of copyrighted material such as segments of television shows, movies, documentaries and many more. As a result, occurrence of internet piracy in forms of video media in YouTube is highly probable and therefore results to the decline in profitability of the rightful owners who hold copyright on the videos in consideration. Some big institutions like Viacom and the English Premier League have actually filed copyright infringement suits against YouTube in the hope for being compensated for the revenues lost due to the unlawful production of their videos. In general, though YouTube doesn’t provide direct links for the videos uploaded in the site, it still promotes internet piracy since with the use of third-party applications; uploaded videos can still be downloaded and therefore are subject to mass production and sharing. With this in mind, YouTube acts as a facilitator in internet piracy by not being strict in its filtering of video uploads and being the venue in which different videos can be searched and eventually downloaded.
To address the concern of internet piracy evident in their website, YouTube has implemented a system called Video ID – a system that checks the videos against a database of copyrighted videos; nevertheless, YouTube’s said database is weak as suggested by the two recent copyright infringement suits.
The primary legal document which governs and regulates the operation of YouTube and any internet website that functions as a depository and sharing grounds of literatures in digital forms is the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
Legal Aspects Concerning Online Piracy
YouTube and its parent company Google consider the Digital Millennium Copyright Act its primary legal document with regard to its operations on being a host to video content sharing over the internet. Actually, this was the basis of the two recent copyright infringement suits filed against YouTube and Google by Viacom and the English Premiere League in the common grounds that:
1. YouTube and Google were not able to prevent the upload of their copyrighted materials which they claim, needed large amount of investments.
2. These parties profited from the countless number of views of copyrighted video and audio clips and did not pay its rightful proprietors any license fees.
3. YouTube and Google did know that the YouTube website's contents were uploaded and being shared in a manner that violates applying laws on internet piracy and still continued its operations to pursue its profit-oriented objectives.
In fact, they refer to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to seek protection from copyright infringement suits filed against them since there is a provision in the said act that limits the liability of service providers.
After the copyright infringement by Viacom, YouTube, together with Audible Magic Corporation, developed an anti-piracy system that would allow copyright holders to detect and remove their registered content unlawfully uploaded in YouTube at their option. Nonetheless, such system warrants further examination since the removal of the contents rest upon the owners, not on the initiative of the YouTube operators:
1. Does this mean that YouTube is freed from the burdensome task of filtering out copyrighted contents, considering that it is THEM who actually realize gains from these contents? 2. Does this system further limits the liability of YouTube and Google as regards to the video uploads in the YouTube website, making it more invulnerable to infringement attacks?
(YouTube part) Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/YouTube http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adobe_Flash_Player http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Codec Crunchbase.com - http://www.crunchbase.com/company/youtube New York Times - http://www.crunchbase.com/company/youtube Yahoo! News - http://tech.yahoo.com/news/ap/20090310/ap_on_hi_te/eu_britain_youtube USA Today - http://www.usatoday.com/tech/news/2006-07-16-youtube-views_x.htm Techland - http://techland.blogs.fortune.cnn.com/2008/03/25/youtube-looks-for-the-money- clip
(Piracy part) (See http://www.serci.org/docs_1_2/waelbroeck.pdf) (See http://www.mpaa.org/pyramid_of_piracy.pdf) (See http://www.enotes.com/internet-piracy-article) (http://www.microsoft.com/southafrica/piracy/internet.mspx) (http://www.microsoft.com/southafrica/piracy/internet.mspx) (http://www.enotes.com/internet-piracy-article)