When the Betamax/VCR first came out, Hollywood insisted that it was pure evil and that it would be "the Boston Strangler" to the movie business. And, if you looked at how the devices were used at first, you could easily argue that the vast, vast majority of the usage was, in fact, infringing. In part, that was because the movie studios were so freaked out about such devices, they couldn't even comprehend offering licensed movies for home viewing at the time. Instead, the device was purely about "theft." Of course, after a drawn out trial, the Supreme Court (very closely) came down in favor of the VCR, and said that because it had substantial non-infringing uses, it was legal. Just a few years after that, the home video market for the major Hollywood studios was so large, that it was widely claimed that the VCR saved
Hollywood, rather than killing it.
This story is not a unique one. We seem to see the same thing with every disruptive technology that old guard entertainment firms can't comprehend. When radio was introduced it was declared that it would kill the music industry
. The RIAA worked hard to have the MP3 player declared illegal
It happens over and over again -- and each and every time, soon afterwards, new markets emerge, new opportunities become abundantly clear, and the platform that was supposedly pure evil and bent on the destruction of the industry turns out to be a huge new revenue base and opportunity, usually providing revenue in ways that simply weren't possible before that new technology came along.
It sure looks like the same exact thing is happening with YouTube. As you probably know, Viacom is still
engaged in a drawn out lawsuit against YouTube
over many thousands of clips that Viacom insists were infringing and a massive blight on its bottom line.
And yet... because YouTube had the time to develop, something interesting has been happening. By now you're hopefully all familiar with ContentID. While it has its quirks and issues, one thing that is clear is that it's become a tremendous source of revenue for content creators to monetize works uploaded by others. But it's not just others. NPR has a story about how the major MPAA Hollywood studios -- including Viacom -- are now profiting nicely by purposely uploading all sorts of clips from their various movies
, knowing that people are searching for and watching key moments... which they can monetize:
Oh, and the fun part: she gets to watch movies, pick the most memorable moments, and upload those clips to YouTube. Today, it's L.A. Story.
"We always pick a clip that has a beginning, middle and an end," says Strickland, pointing out the various fields she has to fill out in the content management system before she uploads a clip to YouTube. "I put everyone that's in the scene: so Steve Martin, Richard Grant, Victoria Tennant, Sarah Jessica Parker, I put some of the memorable dialogue — 'SanDeE your breasts feel weird, oh, that's because they're real' — then you put discussion topics, character types, settings, eras, what they're doing."
It consists of hours of tedious work to ensure this licensed content will show up first when you go searching for your favorite movie clip on YouTube. Not an easy task when 60 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute.
This is a company that all the big MPAA studios are hiring to go out, find these clips in their own movies, and upload them (and then do things to get them to the top of Google searches). Apparently, it's quite lucrative for the studios. Of course, what's funny is that the same people who are now celebrating this new revenue stream are also the ones who just a few years ago insisted not only that YouTube was illegal, but that it was dead
, because no money could be made from it. But, somehow, these things have a way of working themselves out if they're allowed to do so
This is one of the things that is so troubling to me about the abrupt shutdown of Megaupload. While, at an initial glance, it's easy to insist that the service must
be illegal, the company was actually very actively trying out unique new business models for artists, which many artists celebrated
. But we'll never know how well those would have worked. When the VCR, radio, the MP3 player and YouTube first came on the scene, the industry insisted they were all just as bad as Megaupload. In hindsight those arguments seem pretty silly -- but it seems like we'll never be able to get that same hindsight for Megaupload. And that's a real shame for the content creators who almost certainly would have embraced new business models enabled by this new technology.