A paper I wrote for the class I’m taking about the Internet and how it affects popular culture. Limited to three pages, double-spaced, here is my analysis on YouTube and copyright laws.
What does it take to become an “internet celebrity”? Due to the methods of online media distribution that exist today, user-generated content can reach the masses with the greatest of ease, usually after a lot of work on the user’s behalf. However, when the law becomes involved regarding copyright issues, tensions run high between corporations, the creators of reworked media, and the fans who view these creations. This issue is the most prevalent on the largest video site on the Internet, YouTube.com, which is owned by Google. YouTube needs to clarify and stick to their currently vague copyright policies so that clever media creations, such as the trending practice of anime fan-dubbing, are not turned away after many hours of diligent work.
The crux of the YouTube copyright argument centers on the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and the idea of “fair use” in questionable media content. Established in 1998, the DMCA essentially grants the power for production companies “to demand that online content be taken off-line without due process to prove infringement” (Hilderbrand 55). The key phrase here is “without due process” – without any sort of trial of proof, YouTube is at the mercy of this law to remove the offending content without question. As YouTube’s online video services grew more and more expansive, users began to come across these types of issues, and many discrepancies and objections began to arise regarding the reasons for the content removal. While media conglomerates can point to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act for solid legal backing, all that common users have to argue is the concept of “fair use,” which is an indistinct argument that really needs to be examined on a case-by-case basis. The concept of fair use started to grow in the famous VCR/Betamax case ruling, in which the definition of fair use was expanded to “reproduction of copyrighted content for educational uses–to include personal consumptive uses as a way to broaden the potential audiences for television programming and serve a broader public interest” (Hilderbrand 56). According to section 17 of the Copyright Act of 1976, however, additional facets to the fair use policy have been included, such as if the copyrighted material used would have a negative effect on its original market value, or if the amount of copyrighted material used would be considered substantial or not. At the same time, many YouTube users claim that the removal of their videos infringes on their freedom of speech, as protected by the First Amendment. While YouTube does allow users to fill out a complaint form if there are any objections to their content removal, these kinds of qualms seem to only be truly resolved at an intermittent pace, and can even be dragged out so that the user eventually gives up hope. The question remains then – how can YouTube alter their policies so that a user is more aware regarding what is or is not allowed on the website?
The solution to clarifying YouTube’s copyright policies lies in making the distinguishment clear between the forms of media that are on YouTube. Original content does not rely on any copyrighted material at all, as the media is completely provided by the user. Copied content typically relies on television broadcasting for material, as videos are put directly onto YouTube without much editing at all. Finally, appropriated material involves some copyrighted material being used for a different purpose than it was originally intended. With these distinctions, it is clear to see that YouTube has the biggest user objections regarding rulings over types of appropriated content. Machinima – a word derived from “machines” and “animation” – is an art form that has taken off on YouTube which relies on taking footage from video games and adding audio of different forms on top of it. One of the most famous examples of machinima comes from the Emmy-winning episode of South Park titled “Make Love, Not Warcraft.” In this episode, the creators took footage from the game World of Warcraft, with the help of game studio Blizzard, and created a story using that content. YouTube seems to accept this video form because users must generally create the game content themselves. However, a more recent and popular video trend has been that of the “abridged series,” which relies on shortening episodes from television while completely redoing the soundtrack, usually done through fan-dubbing. The most well-known example of this is “Yu-Gi-Oh: The Abridged Series,” created by LittleKuriboh, which parodied “Yu-Gi-Oh!” – a show about children’s card games. LittleKuriboh voiced each character and wrote humorous, original scripts to “ensure a reasonable degree of conformity among readings of the primary text,” despite relying on the original video material, which is essential for parodies of any sort (Jenkins 54). After episode one of Yu-Gi-Oh Abridged became one of the highest-rated videos on YouTube, the video website decided to pull the video, leaving the creator to be rather baffled (Billany). Over time, again with little explanation, LittleKuriboh’s YouTube page was suspended twice, causing a massive uproar amongst fans. Supporters cried out that the series was protected under fair use because it was parody and that creative outlets were being infringed upon. However, what is most bizarre is that with his new YouTube account, CardGamesFTW, LittleKuriboh has not reached the same level of popularity on YouTube, despite continuing the series. The idea that those with power online pose a threat is mirrored in South Park as well, as the powerful character must be slayed by any means necessary, even with the “Sword of a Thousand Truths.” In order to fully appease users, YouTube needs to fully distinguish what types of videos are problematic, which can only be done by taking a look at the different ways that users appropriate copyrighted media today. Some are used in outlets such as fan-dubbing, some work through machinima, and some just make poor music videos using copyrighted footage. It would be a challenge to do, but for the sake of the popular video community and copyright law, it is a step that must be taken.
Billany, Martin. “*miffed*.” Little Kuriboh’s Gran Torino. 08 Mar 2007. Live Journal. 2 Aug 2009
Hilderbrand, Lucas. “YouTube: Where Cultural Memory and Copyright Converge.” Film Quarterly, Vol. 61, No. 1, September 2007, pp. 48-57.
Jenkins, Henry. “Star Trek Rerun, Reread, Rewritten,” in Fans, Bloggers, and Gamers. New York: New York University Press, 2006, pp. 37-60.
“Make Love, Not Warcraft.” South Park. Dir. Trey Parker. Comedy Central, 04 Oct 2006. TV.