WHERE DO I STAND WITH YOUTUBE?
Q. Am I breaking the law by sharing my own collection of music videos with other visitors to the YouTube website?
A. The short answer to this question is yes, but over the last couple of weeks the longer answer has become more intriguing. YouTube has become an indispensable resource for committed time-wasters, with the 100 million videos watched every day accounting for 60 per cent of all videos watched online. Generous estimates put the value of YouTube at around $1.5bn (£1bn), but it's also estimated that 90 per cent of its content violates copyright laws. And with an upper limit of 10 minutes on the length of uploaded videos, it's the music business that's bearing the brunt. Indeed, Steve Chen, founder of YouTube, recently stated that he envisages the site hosting every music video ever created within 18 months.
However, two weeks ago it was reported that Universal, one of the four major record labels, was preparing to file a lawsuit against YouTube, and bloggers began glumly predicting the imminent demise of the service. Then, in a move which surprised many, the rival Warner Music Group responded by giving YouTube carte blanche to host its video material, and permission for any Warner material to be used in home-made productions. The upshot of this is that if you want to upload a clip of yourself miming to a Mariah Carey song, Universal won't be happy. But do the same to a James Blunt song, and Warner will, theoretically, be right behind you.
The current situation neatly encapsulates the argument surrounding copyright and the internet. Universal believes that it is owed "tens of millions of dollars" in royalties by YouTube, while Warner thinks that the potential exposure for its artists more than makes up for any royalty losses. In this week's inbox most readers have weighed in on the side of YouTube, for three main reasons.
Firstly, it's far from straightforward to download the clips, so often you just watch them online. Secondly, the video quality is so inferior to DVD that, for readers like Rachael Bateson, YouTube merely provides a fuzzy reminder to go out and buy a version not compromised by pixellated visuals and stuttering playback. Thirdly, many of the clips on YouTube can't be found anywhere else. "You could wait 1,000 years for MTV to play Derek Jarman's video for Marc Almond's "Tenderness is a Weakness," points out Al Scott, "but I - along with 1,021 other people - have watched it on YouTube." As Martin Urlwin point outs, "It's a business decision, and whether or not it's a good one, it's Universal's to make."
Whether they end up regretting that decision remains to be seen.
Next week's question comes from Ronan Hartley:
"My dad thinks that I'm addicted to the internet. But does such a condition actually exist? Do any other readers worry about the amount of time they spend online?" Any comments, and new questions for the Cyberclinic, should be e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.