Strong opinions, weakly held

The secret of YouTube

Copyright infringement is not the killer feature of YouTube. It’s a killer app because it makes the videos that define our times easily accessible. Much of the stuff you can find on YouTube simply isn’t available anywhere else. The problem, of course, is that a lot of it is protected by copyright, but that to me just illustrates how badly the copyright laws are failing us.

Are you a sports fan? Where else can you easily watch The Play? Or the Immaculate Reception? Or the shot heard ’round the world? Or the World Cup goal of the century? Or the famous call of the miracle on ice?

If you’re a political junkie, YouTube is essential. You can find just about every bizarre and embarrassing political ad you hear about. Obscure politician makes a gaffe in a speech? You’ll find it on YouTube.

We live in the era of video (and have been living in it for a long time). The world is missing a library of video that enables people to see that famous movie clip they were talking about over dinner, or that embarrassing Tom Cruise interview with Oprah, or all of those other video clips that everybody remembers but you never get to see again. In some ways, YouTube reminds me of Wikipedia, with thousands of volunteers gathering up all of the little bits of video that people care about and putting them in one place, so that they can be referenced by anyone with Internet access.

When I think about it that way, suddenly Google’s purchase of YouTube makes even more sense to me. Google says its mission is “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” Maintaining what is becoming the canonical collection of video clips seems to fit well with that mission.


  1. One of the links there has already been removed due to “copyright infringement.”

    If I were allowed to shoot 10 people in the face, probably eight of those 10 would be MPAA/RIAA/other large corporate entity types who are busily, cynically taking away our rights, and our children’s rights, to be full participants in their own culture.

    People discount this danger — but a fully-informed public that is not walled off from information is vital to the functioning of any democracy. And our democracy, I think, will one day be a wall-off necropolis due to DRM.

  2. The thing is, if Google just provided an easy way for copyright owners to profit from their clips being used, this whole thing could work out great for all involved.

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