Monday, December 1, 2008

YouTube: We can't help it if people download copyrighted material to our site

Before the launch of YouTube in 2005, there were few simple methods available for ordinary computer users who wanted to post videos online. With its easy to use interface, YouTube made it possible for anyone who could use a computer to post a video that millions of people could watch within a few minutes. The wide range of topics covered by YouTube has turned video sharing into one of the most important parts of internet culture.YouTube is a Web 2.0 medium that provides users with a place to upload, view, and share video clips. YouTube's success was based on how easy its software made it for ordinary computer users to upload videos, and the network effect that meant that the more material that was uploaded, the more attractive the site became for viewers, and therefore for others seeking to share content (Buch & Thomas, 2007).

YouTube is the fastest growing website in internet history. “On average there are one hundred million videos streamed per day, with sixty five thousand new video clips uploaded every day. Fifty eight percent of internet videos are watched on YouTube. Thirty to forty percent of the content on YouTube is copyrighted (Buch & Thomas, 2007).

YouTube’s success has not come without problems. One of the biggest problems surrounding free video sharing is the ownership of content. Users post copyrighted material at an alarming rate. This has brought a number of lawsuits against YouTube. This paper is going to discuss the social implications concerning ownership of content surrounding YouTube, along with a history, description of YouTube’s functions, and an analysis of the demographics of the users.

YouTube was founded in 2005 by Chad Hurley, Steve Chen and Jawed Karim, who were all early employees of PayPal (Yadiv, 2006). 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 received funding from Sequoia Capital in November 2005 and was officially launched one month later in December (Yadiv, 2006). Chad Hurley and Steve Chen proceeded to become the first members of the YouTube management team and currently serve as Chief Executive Officer and Chief Technology Officer respectively.

In November 2006, within a year of its launch, YouTube was purchased by Google Inc. in one of the most talked-about acquisitions to date. Google Inc. acquired YouTube for an astonishing one billion six hundred and fifty million dollars in Google stock.

In an effort to provide copyrighted material legitimately YouTube has struck numerous partnership deals with content providers such as CBS, BBC, Universal Music Group, Sony Music Group, Warner Music Group, NBA, the Sundance Channel and many more (Yadiv,2006).

In May 2007 YouTube announced a revenue-sharing arrangement called “Partners Program” to cut in creators and producers of original content on revenue from their videos on YouTube. YouTube says that content creators can earn revenue from relevant advertisements that run against their videos using Google's proprietary technology. The program is free to join and is based on cost-per-impression advertising. In June 2007 YouTube launched local versions in Brazil, France, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Poland, Spain, and the U.K. Additionally in June, Apple’s iPhone launched with a YouTube application, further extending YouTube’s penetration in the mobile market following its November 2006 partnership with Verizon’s VCast service.

Over the summer and fall of 2007 major announcements were made about advertising models for YouTube. In August, YouTube introduced “YouTube In Video Ads,” a set of flash overlays displayed on the lower portion of videos. Advertisers are charged per impression, and the resulting revenue will be shared with the clip creator. In October, Google announced the inclusion of YouTube videos in its AdSense product. Site owners using AdSense can select videos from certain content providers, and ads will be served contextually as they relate to either the site or the video. Resulting revenue will be split between content providers, site owners, as well as Google.

YouTube allows a lot of interaction amongst its users. Users can post comments on videos, rate videos, and post video response to videos. Users can post comments to any video they view. The comments can not be edited or deleted by the viewer once it is posted. Comments can only be moderated or deleted by the video owner. The owner can also select options to change how comments are posted to their videos. If the owner chooses to edit the properties for his/ her videos, they have the option to allow all comments, require approval for all comments, or block all comments (YouTube, 2008). Users can also rate comments on videos. If there is a comment that a user likes for whatever reason they can click on a thumbs up icon indicating that the comment is worthwhile. A user can also click on the thumbs down icon if they do not like a comment. As more users score a comment it becomes easier to find. Then users can also sort comments based on the ratings they received. To sort comments users select an option from a drop screen below the video. Then they can choose view all comments, the highest rated comments, lowest rated comments, or somewhere in between.

YouTube users can rate videos as well. To rate comments all one needs is an account with YouTube and a verified email account. Once a user has rated a video there is no way that he /she can change it. The owner of the video can not change the ratings that their video clip has received either (YouTube, 2008).

YouTube also allows users to post video responses to videos. There are three types of video responses that one can make. They can either record a video right from their own computer utilizing their camera and a microphone, use an existing video from their account, or upload a new video that is not in their account (YouTube, 2008). The owner can select options to change how video responses are posted to their videos in the same way they can comments, either allow all, allow with approval, or allow none.

Given the generally anonymity of posting videos on YouTube, it is very difficult to identify the demographics of the users. However, by using the data that users give to obtain a YouTube account one can paint a vague picture of what the demographics of YouTube’s users are. YouTube’s audience is currently sixty nine percent male verse thirty one percent female. Users eighteen year of age or younger comprise the largest portion of YouTube’s users, at thirty two percent of all users. Users aged thirty five to forty five represent the second biggest audience at twenty seven percent. People aged eighteen to twenty five account for eleven percent of users, people aged fifty five to sixty five account for ten percent of users, people aged eighteen to twenty five account for eight percent of users so do people aged forty five to fifty five, and people aged sixty five and older represent the last four percent of users (CodeLathe, 2008). According to Nielsen Net Ratings, weekly U.S. Web traffic to grew from 7.3 to 12.8 million unique visitors the week ending July 16.

Over the past decade, the emergence of broadband networks, Internet protocol and inexpensive wireless networks has revolutionized the way Americans inform and entertain themselves. Millions have seized the opportunities digital technology provides to express themselves creatively. Mean while, entrepreneurs have made fortunes providing the networks, the tools, and the creative works that have fueled this revolution. But these same innovations have also been misused to propel an explosion of copyright infringement by exploiting the inexpensive duplication and distribution made possible by digital technology (Yadiv, 2006). Some entities, rather than taking the lawful path of building businesses that respect intellectual property rights on the Internet, have sought their fortunes by openly exploiting the violating potential of digital technology ( The Utube Blog, 2008).

Is YouTube one such entity? It is said that YouTube has harnessed technology to willfully infringe copyrights on a huge scale, depriving writers, composers and performers of the reimbursement they are owed for their effort and creativity, reducing American’s incentive to produce original, creative work, and profiting from the illegal conduct of others ( Buch & Thomas, 2007). Using the leverage of the Internet, it is said that YouTube takes possession of valuable content on an enormous scale for YouTube’s benefit without payment or license. Is YouTube violating copyright law on a huge scale? Here are some of the lawsuits that YouTube is currently involved in, you decide.

In 2006, Robert Tur, owner and operator of Los Angela’s News Service, filed a lawsuit against YouTube over copyrighted material. The material in question is the video tape of Reginald Denny being beaten during the Los Angela’s riots of 1992. Tur says “That YouTube knows that there is copyrighted material being shared on their site and infringes copyright via the internet by means of contributory infringement (Sandoval, 2006).” Which is to say that they knowing facilitate copyright infringement with their service. YouTube maintains that they are observing copyright law under the Safe Harbor Provision of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). This act says that it is the copyright owner’s responsibility to bring issues of copyright infringement to the service provider for them to take them down. YouTube has always abided by this. Tur argues that what good is the material to him after it has been viewed a couple thousand times for free on YouTube (Sandoval, 2006).

The next high profile case against YouTube was brought on by Viacom. Viacom is suing for a staggering one billion dollars for the illegal distribution of its copyrighted material. Viacom is a media company that owns TV channels including Comedy Central, MTV, Nickelodeon, and the Paramount Film Studio just to name a few (Sweney, 2008). By Viacom’s count there are over a hundred thousand of their copyrighted works on YouTube at any one time. They have gone to YouTube before and asked them to remove the material and YouTube obliged. They are saying that they spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to hunt down this material on YouTube to have them remove it. Viacom argues that this is not what the creators of the DMCA had in mind when they wrote the act and that YouTube is clearly not covered under Safe Harbor protection (Sweney, 2008).

The English Football Association Premier league has launched a lawsuit against YouTube as well. They say are suing because YouTube is profiting from a knowing violation of its copyright in the league and in footage of games in that league. Again YouTube asserts that it is protected under Safe Harbor protection of the DMCA under the act YouTube does not have to check content before it is downloaded to their site. In accordance to the act they remove any copyrighted material once it is pointed out by the copyrighted holder. The English Football Association says “Why do they have to point out material that YouTube clearly knows violates copyright law (Out-Law News, 2007).” The claim says that YouTube should not qualify for "safe harbor" protection because it is not merely storing material at the request of a user. "YouTube take multiple voluntary acts to encourage and/or facilitate infringing activity, including (without limitation) by creating, on behalf of users, the HTML code necessary to 'embed' videos on other sites Out-Law News, 2007)," it says.

The New Jersey Turnpike also filed suite agianst YouTube. The material in question was of a car accident that occurred at one of their toll boothes on the turnpike. A fifty two year old man crashed into the toll booth and died. Once New Jersey authorities discovered the video on YouTube they asked that it be taking down and it was. By that time numerous people had already copied the video. Even thought youtube took it down it keeps being posted with different tags, making it hard to locate on the site. New Jersey authorities are unhappy with the fact that althought youtube took down the initial video it has not followed up and tried to keep copies from being posted back on the site. “The video serves no worthwhile purpose and shows a tremendous lack of common human decency towards the family of the victim,” says New Jersey Authorities (NowPublic, 2007). This case comes down to the DMCA and the fact that New Jersey authorities are suing over a video that YouTube has already removed.

On October 2007, YouTube announced a new service called “YouTube Video Identification” in order to assist copyright holders in protecting their content. With the service copyright holders upload full copies of their content to the service and complex algorithms are applied against YouTube’s library of clips to see if any match the uploaded content (Yadiv, 2006). Copyright holders can then either have YouTube remove the videos in question or allow YouTube to serve advertising along with the content and split the resulting revenue.

YouTube has enjoyed a lot of success with the use of copyrighted material. They maintain that they abide by the copyright laws set forth by the DMCA, which in large it appears that they have. Is it their job to police all the material that is downloaded to their site? With thirty five employees it hardly sounds feasible that they would even begin to be able to approval all the content before it was downloaded to the site. This is going to be the issue when all these lawsuits go to trial. The hope of this paper was to inform about the social implications that surround the ownership of content on YouTube’s website. You have to takes these facts and decide for yourself if YouTube is in violation of copyright law of if they are merely providing a service where people can easily upload, view and share videos.


Yadiv, S. (2006). YouTube: The complete profile. Retrieved November 27, 2008, from

Out-Law News. (2007). English football league sues Google. Retreived November 27, 2008, from

NowPublic. (2007). That video belongs to the New Jersey Turnpike: DMCA lawsuits continue. Retrieved November 28, 2008, from

The Utube Blog. (2008). Some copyright lawsuits v. YouTube disappear. Retrieved November 28, 2008, from

Sandoval, G. (2006). YouTube sued over copyright infringement. Retrieved November 28, 2008, from

Sweney, M. (2008). Google and Viacom reach deal over YouTube user data. Retrieved November 28, 2008, from

YouTube. (2008). Interacting with videos. Retrieved November 28, 2008, from

Buch, V. & Thomas, D. (2007). YouTube case study: Widget marketing comes of age. Retrieved November 28, 2008, from

Code Lathe. (2008). YouTube user demographics vs Face Book user Demographics. Retrieved November 28, 2008, from

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