Why Buy the Cow?

Because you can’t get the milk for free.

YouTube is cleaning up its act–and it already gives a cold shoulder to copyright-infringing videos.

A few weeks ago Google announced that it will purchase YouTube for $1.6 billion. A week later YouTube, at the request of a Japanese entertainment industry trade group and with considerable press fanfare, removed 30,000 files for alleged copyright infringement. The Japan Society for Rights of Authors, Composers and Publishers notified YouTube of the offending video clips of its members’ TV shows, music videos, and movies and “YouTube quickly removed all the files requested.” (1)

Copyright infringement is a tricky issue for YouTube. It cannot appear soft on copyright infringement, not since it became a pipeline to Google’s incredibly deep pockets. Before the Google acquisition YouTube toed the line when it came to infringing material, giving up the names of users in response to subpoenas from copyright holders seeking their identity for infringement lawsuits.(2) Now, post-Google, YouTube is making an even stronger statement. Comedy Central complained last week about its shows appearing on YouTube; Poof! went clips of “The Daily Show” and “South Park.” (3) Note two things about these YouTube purging stories. First, YouTube is apparently purging en masse in response to copyright infringement take-down requests. I am curious about how detailed are the identifications of infringing material in the rights-holders notices, and how tailored YouTube’s response is to them. Second, the national press is covering stories of the content purges. YouTube isn’t shredding files in the dark at 3:00 AM. It is doing it at Noon in Times Square.

This is the tricky part. While I enjoy videos of a banana spider eating a grub and cat fights as much as anyone, they are not themselves the foundation for a $1.6 billion business. Google bought YouTube’s eyeballs, current and future. Those eyeballs have belonged to YouTube because there they could find what they wanted: Stephen Colbert’s speech at the 2006 White House Correspondents’ Dinner, “Saturday Night Live” Weekend Updates, televised sport highlights: “Type ‘NASCAR crash’ into YouTube’s search engine and it produces nearly 700 videos. ‘NHL fight’ rewards viewers with nearly 600 action-packed clips. And ‘NBA’ produces more than 11,500 offerings, including a 16-year-old fan’s slam-dunk highlight reel that has been watched 1.9 million times.” (4) Much of this copyrighted content is used without the rights’ holders’ authorization. (Ironically, while YouTube removed Colbert’s speech at C-SPAN’s request it is available on Google Video as of this writing.) YouTube must walk the line between deleting infringing content too eagerly and alienating users, and deleting it too slowly and inviting copyright infringement lawsuits.

It walks that line now by responding to requests to remove copyright-infringing material in the manner required by the notice and take-down provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. That works but is not efficient, requiring constant monitoring by copyright holders for unauthorized use of their copyrighted material. It is a place-holding strategy, not the basis for a business plan. Their interests mesh when the copyright holders license their material to YouTube. Licenses mean that YouTube secures the content it needs to capture eyeballs and rights holders turn a headache into a revenue stream. Indeed, YouTube entered into licenses with Universal and Sony BMG just days before Google agreed to purchase it, sweetening the deal for Google.(5) Expect more such licenses, more rigorous filtering to identify and screen unauthorized postings of copyrighted material, and more publicity over purgings as YouTube enters the mainstream.


  1. Associated Press, YouTube Removes 30,000 Files Amid Copyright Concerns, The Wall Street Journal, Oct-20-06 (Subscription required)
  2. Greg Sandoval, YouTube’s No Friend to Copyright Violators, c/Net News.com 21-Oct-06; Greg Sandoval, YouTube Sued Over Copyright Infringement, c/Net News.com 18-Jul-06
  3. Noam Cohen, YouTube is Purging Copyrighted Clips, The New York Times, 30-Oct-06
  4. Greg Johnson, In Sports Highlights, YouTube is No. 1, The Los Angeles Times, 21-Oct-06
  5. Digital Media Wire Was it a Smart Move of YouTube to Make Labels Partners in Crime?,19-Oct-06

2 Replies to “Why Buy the Cow?”

  1. Carissa

    Having read this I thought it was really informative.
    I appreciate you taking the time and energy to put this information together.
    I once again find myself personally spending way too much time both reading and commenting.
    But so what, it was still worth it!

  2. Nila

    I like the valuable information you provide in your articles.
    I’ll bookmark your blog and check again here frequently.
    I’m quite sure I will learn lots of new stuff right here! Good
    luck for the next!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.