One of the favorite tropes of the anti-piracy crowd is that all this unauthorized sharing is killing culture, pauperizing artists and generally making the world go to hell in a handbasket. The only pieces of evidence adduced in support of that position are the market reports put together for the copyright industries that (a) say the sky is falling and (b) base that analysis on the industries' own unsubstantiated claims.
In fact, as we know, for all of the copyright industries, the Sky is Rising. But that's only half the story, for alongside the traditional distribution channels, there are now entirely new ways in which people can create and share their creations. These have only emerged in the last few years, and so there is a natural tendency to underestimate their importance. But gradually figures are emerging that hint at the extraordinary scale of the creativity they foster.
For example, user uploads to YouTube are now running at one hour of videos every second -- that's 86,400 hours every day, and over thirty million hours per year. Now, a portion of that content may be copyright material -- but only some, and probably not much. That's because Google has been employing its Content ID system for some time now:
What is Content ID?
What the use of Google's Content ID means is that the stuff copyright companies care about is already being caught. What's left varies from high-art mashups to how-to manuals to cat videos. But whatever it is, there's lots of it, with millions of hours of new content being uploaded every year.
YouTube's state-of-the-art technologies let rights owners:
Identify user-uploaded videos comprised entirely OR partially of their content and
Choose, in advance, what they want to happen when those videos are found. Make money from them. Get stats on them. Or block them from YouTube altogether.
It's up to you.
How does Content ID work?
Rights holders deliver YouTube reference files (audio-only or video) of content that they own, metadata describing that content, and policies on what they want YouTube to do when we find a match.
We compare videos uploaded to YouTube against those reference files.
Our technology automatically identifies your content and applies your preferred policy: monetise, track or block.
Tumblr hosts a different kind of user-generated content, but with similarly huge holdings. It currently has over 20 billion posts on 51 million blogs, and each day, over 60 million more are added:
The average Tumblr user creates 14 original posts each month, and reblogs 3. Half of those posts are photos. The rest are split between text, links, quotes, music, and video.
Again, some of the music and video shared on Tumblr may be unauthorized sharing, but much of that creativity -- the photos, text and links -- almost certainly isn't.
Meanwhile, on a site that most people have forgotten about, assuming they'd ever heard about it in the first place, content in the form of wikis is being produced in ever-greater quantities:
Listed among the top 10 social networks and blogs in the U.S. by Nielsen in 2011, Wikia sees nearly 50 million global unique visitors per month, has over 339,000 communities (600 new ones added daily), and is witnessing 42% traffic growth year-over-year.
Putting these kind of figures together with the daily output of hundreds of millions of users on Twitter and its Chinese analogs -- to say nothing of the near-billion Facebookers -- and what emerges is a ferment of creativity the likes of which the world has never seen before. So how can this be squared with the repeated claims that piracy is somehow leading to the death of culture?
More specifically, gaming and entertainment communities have been Wikia’s bread and butter. The site hosts over 65k game wikis with 2.48M game pages. Elder Scrolls, for example has 8k+ content pages and it would take a month to read them all at 5 minutes per page.
I think the answer is that in the eyes of many commentators all this activity simply "doesn't count". That is, a video on YouTube is not "real" art, and a Tumblr post is not "real" literature. So when people complain that piracy is "killing" culture, what they are really expressing is their own incomprehension in the face of this new kind of art.
To admit that piracy isn't a problem, because it seems to be leading to more, not less creativity, would be to admit that the huge outpourings of user-generated content are indeed art, some of it even rather good art. And that, rather than any supposed harm from unauthorized sharing of copyright materials, is what many seem to fear. For the copyright industries and cultural commentators it calls into question their ability to make aesthetic judgments -- and hence money -- while for the artists, it questions their privileged position in society, and the special role of their art there.
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