By now I’m sure you’ve at least heard about copyright claims wreaking havoc across YouTube. If you haven’t, these videos should give you an eye and earful. Content ID has been around since 2009, but last year something strange happened. It was as if Google, feeling scorned by the world’s rejection of its precious baby Google+, went crazy-psycho and loosed its dog on YouTube, quickly killing off several channels whose videos were protected under the “Fair Use” clause of US copyright law.
But don’t worry, there’s no way this will ruin YouTube. Content creators aren’t going to flock to other sites since YouTube gets 20 times the traffic as its nearest competitor. The money to be earned from AdSense is greater than that from any other video site. So here we are stuck in this limbo while an over-eager system classifies videos as being infringements, even when the uploaders have companies’ permission to use them. Many companies such as Valve and Facepunch Studios encourage let’s play (mirror) videos and machinima (mirror), knowing that communities are eager to show their love and that they can produce videos that are essentially free advertising, only to have Content ID automatically tag these videos as infringing. This happens even to original content creators.
Valve in particular has shown time and time again that not using copyright law to stifle innovation will benefit everyone. Compare the stories of the Chrono Trigger fan remake and the Half-Life fan remake named Black Mesa. When CT owner Square Enix got wind of the remake’s development, they issued a cease and desist, ending their fans’ work on what looked to be a very promising love letter to one of the SNES’ best games. Square Enix has yet to develop their own remake even nine years later. When Valve got wind of Black Mesa, on the other hand, they shrugged and went about their business. Ten years later, Black Mesa is nearing a Steam release after being greenlighted by the community and when it finally does hit Steam, Valve will collect a standard platform fee of 30% for each sale. They didn’t have to lift a finger to make this game, and they’ll collect tens of thousands of dollars off of it. That is how you copyright, ladies and gentlemen.
Of course, videos are no longer automatically deleted (as they are on Dailymotion.com and other sites) but they are tagged as belonging to the copyright holder. The video is then blocked from viewing in certain countries (based on certain factors) until the uploader acknowledges the claim. When this happens the claimant (called the “third party”) will receive ad revenue from the video, even if it’s a so-called “transformative work” put together by the uploader. What this means is that a publisher (Viacom, Zenimax, FOX, etc.) needs only to claim copyright of a particular work and YouTube users will be forced to acknowledge this ownership whether it’s valid or not. Here’s a perfect example. Last year I uploaded an unlisted video (mirror) to YouTube of students playing “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” for non-commercial purposes. Everything was fine and dandy for a few months, but suddenly I lost my ability to upload videos over 15 minutes long! I had been uploading several gameplay videos, most recently the one of Super Mario Bros., but just as soon as they were up I acknowledged the copyright and no longer had any violations–or so I thought. Scrolling down to check every one of my videos, I noticed that new claims all of a sudden popped up against my violin videos. And one of them was for “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.”
In case you don’t know the history of that particular song, let me break it down. “Twinkle” originated with a French melody called “Ah! Vous dirai-je, Maman” which was published in 1761. It was arranged in a theme-and-variation (K 265/300e) by Mozart in 1780, and set to words in a poem called “The Star” by Jane Taylor in 1806. So without copyright law, we have a collaboration of sorts between a French dude, an Austrian guy, and an English lady across five decades. You’ll notice that all of these dates are from a really long time ago, and US law grants copyright to an author for 70 years after his/her death. And I was forced to acknowledge that it belonged to “multiple third-party claimants” in order for my video not to be blocked.
Even after giving into their demands, my account still didn’t grant me the ability to upload videos over fifteen minutes in length, hence the need for my second YouTube channel. Also, I decided it would be a good idea to make an account with DailyMotion.com as a back-up. This took a bit more work than you might think; I neglected to save back-up copies on my hard drive so I had to extract those first.
But now I won’t have to worry about my videos disappearing since I have two back-ups and now I get to upload long videos. What’s the downside, you might ask? Well, now that YouTube accounts are tied to Google+ and so is Blogger, I have to use a different browser to upload videos for that account or else I’ll have to sign in-and-out in order to work with my blog and videos. And all of this could have been avoided by publishers not claiming to own a song that’s been in the public domain for two hundred years.
So what’s the moral? What can you take away from this? Simply: If someone wants to do something cool with your idea, let ‘im. If his product is better than yours, you’ll either be forced to improve your own, or you can use his product’s lower quality to advertise your own (much in the same way that commercials refer to their products being better than the “leading brand”). Maybe that’s why companies are so eager to suppress derivative works–they don’t want to compete by making better ideas.
Anyway, my blog is copyrighted, but I’d rather that someone rip off my ideas than to continue having my ideas be unknown. But maybe that’s just me. Anyway, if you want to use The King of Martian Cats in your stories or paintings, go ahead.