“What TV show are you with?”
“It’s bigger than TV. You heard of the World Wide Web?”
– Conversation between filmmaker and Dallas Penn at Sundance 2007
The Re-Up Gang
On Monday we posted a performance of Scenario from this years VH1 Hip Hop Honors which we had attended as press last week. We had just made it down to the show’s floor in time for the Tribe tribute and capturing that moment of Busta’s Scenario verse was a definite highlight of the evening. Many who saw the VH1 show that evening must have considered it a highlight too because 24 hours after we posted the clip to YouTube it had over 8,000 views and was considered a top 15 most viewed video for the day in the music category. Our director profile benefited as well, cracking the day’s top 80 for most viewed on YouTube overall.
So we felt like our plan to release this cool-ass video (get the re-up as a quick-time file here) to get people hyped for our upcoming VH1 Honors video had gone even better than planned. Then all of the sudden it was yanked, the email from YouTube saying that Viacom had requested the clip be pulled. The whole thing puts a confusing cap on Viacom’s mixed signals to the Internets Celebrities.
Are we the purveyors of cool that they want as one of their flagship sites for their new decentralized social network product Flux? Or are we the XXL blogger that is not allowed to criticize their MTV greatest hip hop groups list? Are we the video crew that is told we are allowed to shoot the VH1 Honors show or the one who gets delegated to the press room and gets their video pulled off of YouTube?
Trying to comprehend CUNY-form
Web video (and YouTube in particular) gets a bad rap from the old guard of the film and tv industry. They criticize YouTube as being nothing but clips of people’s cats and pirated material – but this critique should go both ways. Even we have been affected by TV’s free-wheeling ways with internet clips that they do not own.
NPR host Brian Lehrer runs a TV show on CUNY (City University of New York) TV here in NYC. They recently featured Bodega and spent about ten minutes discussing the issues addressed in our video. You can find this 10/3 episode online in the show’s archives. We weren’t contacted for permission (we certainly would have granted it), or contacted about being one of the guests talking about the problems Bodega addresses (we certainly would have attended). Our reaction upon hearing about the show by a fluke (do you know anyone who watches CUNY TV?) is one Viacom could learn from. The reaction was somewhere between bemusement, flattery and irritation. We were glad to see our video get promoted but curious as to why Lehrer wouldn’t bother to notify us that our video was being broadcast on TV. We have a decent sized NYC following that we could have suggested tune in to the show.
What we wouldn’t do in such a situation though is take legal action. We recognize that in the grand scheme of things we are not harmed in any way by CUNY TV using our video without permission. You may be saying, what does a public television network like CUNY TV have to do with Viacom but the point is that this double standard is pervasive and should be addressed. The web as a medium has that stigma – a den of thieves where people with nothing to offer of their own (amateurs!) re-post the sacred intellectual property of the true creatives in Hollywood / the music biz / the software industry. Yet web properties are seemingly fair game to TV. Was that website you see on some TV show cleared? Was that web video clip?
And so this hypocrisy does come right back to Viacom, who from their high horse have been suing YouTube and demanding Viacom clips be pulled from the video host community, one of many parties in the TV business who assert that YouTube’s success is built on their hard work and intellectual property.
But are they any better? A bit over two years ago Internets Celebrity director Casimir Nozkowski co-created the web site Crying While Eating as part of a viral media contest. The site went very viral when BoingBoing covered it and days later it appeared as part of a segment on the VH1 show Best Week Ever without any permission given from the creators of Crying While Eating. If that segment was on YouTube today, Viacom would no doubt pull it down for a copyright violation but who is truly in violation?
Some of you may be aware that this exact chain of events did happen this year with a different web video for another VH1 show. WebJunk profiled a video by Christopher Knight, Knight was happy for the attention and posted a clip of the show on YouTube. Viacom went after him for violating their copyright, though they had done the same to him by airing his clip in the first place. You can read more about this on Knight’s blog.
So this is the company suing YouTube for copyright violations. The same company that regularly uses background music on MTV without clearance of any kind, and are able to enjoy that kind of privilege because of their position in the music business.
But lets look past the hypocrisy of Viacom’s copyright lawsuit. Companies act out of self-interest so there is no sense holding them up to moral scrutiny. The fact is Viacom are foolish for pulling our video – it goes directly against their own interest to pull the Scenario tribute video we had posted.
Here are things Viacom would be better off doing instead of pulling our video:
- Enjoying the Promotion!
I posted the video in a few places and around 10% of the comments were people like Jay B at Oh Word who said “I’m more enthusiastic about seeing the show now.” At Philaflava, some replies to the video included “shit gave me chills” and “EASTERN TIME WHEN DOES THIS START?”
- Letting their customers go deeper with their content.
At least half the comments on YouTube were clearly from people who had seen the show on TV and then wanted to re-experience or comment on that performance. There’s nowhere online, not even on VH1.com where you provide that experience. Instead of removing the video as it blows up the YouTube charts, how about learning from its success and offering up your content online in small chunks? It’s not like we were stealing people away from Viacom’s online offering of the performance, if anything we were enriching their experience by giving them a way to share and communicate about it. Instead of thrilling its audience or building a better relationship with them, Viacom is wasting serious resources trying to teach their customers a lesson.
- Building with us
Good work giving us press passes, we have a video coming out soon of the Internets Celebrities backstage at your show that IMHO is fresher than the show you aired Monday! You should be happy about this, instead of making us worry if we can post it on YouTube.
- Embracing the mash-up culture
Can a company successfully front like it represents hip-hop and web culture while suing over intellectual property? Is having an audience that wants to spread your material something to fight? Wasn’t it better once upon a time when people thought you guys were cool?
- Realizing it’s not even the same clip we’re showing
We’re just some jerks in the audience with one camera. Viacom has union guys that have cameras on cranes and shit, and top-notch audio equipment. Surely you trust your rendering of the same performance over ours, right? Plus YouTube compression can’t hold a candle to television quality. Although by removing it from YouTube you motivate us to spread the high quality QuickTime file….
Scenario by Pharrell, Lupe, Common and Busta Rhymes from the 2007 VH1 Hip Hop Honors A Tribe Called Quest tribute (QuickTime .mov file).