Intellectual Property

Hollywood and YouTube: Friends or Foes?

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Yesterday's NY Times has an interesting article about the coming battles between Hollywood studios and Google-owned YouTube, which are in negotiations for a licensing deal that will avoid the copyright hassles that shut down Napsters, Grokster, and other file-sharing sites. Estimates of the amount of "Hollywood-derived content" on YouTube–actual clips and original mash-ups–run between 20 percent and 70 percent of all content on the site. Some snippets:

YouTube distributes unauthorized clips of the movies that the studios spend an average of $96 million to make. But it can also help them build tremendous buzz, and that is driving Hollywood to try to work with it instead of against it….

"I think studios will sue if they don't get a licensing deal they like," said Jessica Litman, a professor at the University of Michigan Law School. "My guess is if I were a movie studio, getting a cut of the money is more profitable than shutting it down. But it's complicated, very complicated, and it's only going to get worse."…

"I think that the marketing side of our company and the copyright-protection side have contradictory impulses," [Universal chief Marc] Shmuger said. "But there is a huge appetite for content, and we are well-advised to recognize that appetite and find constructive ways to feed it."

Mr. Shmuger said the studios need to embrace sites like YouTube because they are the future of movie marketing. "If you want to be involved in the cultural debate, you have to allow consumers to be more actively involved," he said. "That's a different world order which we are not used to."…

It's encouraging when a studio head, of all people, recognizes that the old top-down modes of cultural production are like, so 20th century. Yet the Times' article notes that Universal Music sued MySpace for copyright infringement recently and that when Google bought YouTube, it put aside some $200 million to cover copyright-related lawsuits. And the story is thick with Big Content gurus admitting that yes, they like the Napoleon Dynamite-Eminem mashup but that it's still piracy don't you know.

And the Director's Guild, last seen attacking CleanFlicks for pixallating Kate Winslet's Titanic breasts, is taking a hard line against anyone messing with product.

Times article here.

Reason review of Jessica Litman's excellent Digital Copyright here.

Reason on Big Content vs. Silicon Valley, a.k.a Hollywood vs. the Internet here

Reason on mash-ups here.