The recent lawsuit against YouTube is only one story in a saga of traditional media’s hate for internet distribution of their materials. Ever since the emergence of Napster, traditional media has used its legal and financial might to dissuade consumers from taking digital distribution into their own hands. Of course, I’ll grant that digital bootlegging is a headache like no other because you have something on an unprecedented scale and more anonymous than it ever was.
Some critics of traditional media claim it’s a victimless crime while others call on traditional media to come up with a better business model to make the best of the situation. However, I have yet to find a critic that presented a convincing and viable alternative to suing to dissuade would be offenders. Of course, iTunes shows a compelling alternative to traditional distribution that benefits both the consumer (cheaper prices) and traditional media (less overhead). However, iTunes is a single portal on a single platform.
That’s not to say that I love traditional media. The fact is there is way too much content compared to what any single human being can consume in their lifetime as it is. The quality of media is also lower than it ever was. I think it’s an inevitable product of enhanced tools that allow mass production of “professional” content like never before. With music it’s a given that record companies fleece the few artists that have succeeded in order to finance their gamble of signing other unproven artists in the hope of making more money. Hollywood needs to make more money to crank out movies that substitute substance with big budgets that still remain a financial gamble.
I believe we are at a crossroads before distribution almost goes completely digital while traditional forms of distribution take a lesser role (though will never completely vanish because people want to own copies of media that really matters). We live in an age of disposable media.
Still, you can only do so much by going after students, grandmothers, and the disabled. Big media needs bigger targets it seems. The recent $1 billion lawsuit against YouTube seems like a typical power play move from big media.
I don’t think it was strategy but it would be a masterful one if it indeed was. Was Mark Cuban right? Despite the growth of YouTube’s popularity, it was a cash-strapped startup eating bandwidth and venture capital money for breakfast. It was only a matter of time before they folded under their own weight or got diluted with so much capital that the founders would be better off finding a real job. Still, YouTube had something no other had: popularity as the number one destination for video (despite the 5 minute limit, trashy quality, and a tiny screen).
Big media wouldn’t get much from suing YouTube the startup because they’d only accumulate legal fees they have no way of recouping. Once YouTube gets acquired by a rich company they can sue daddy big bucks and launch a competitive service that has their blessing. It might not eliminate YouTube but it will surely stall innovation and expansion. Not to mention, make Google think twice about their approach to control video content.
Of course, this being the internet, people wouldn’t look twice at competition unless it offered better content, bigger screen sizes, less restrictions, more bandwidth, and higher encoding quality. If you think big media will do that think again.
At the end of the day the best this lawsuit will do is open up the way for competition that will surely try to upstage YouTube. If I was big media I’d flood YouTube with low-quality samples that are just enticing enough while keeping them in check with legal hounds so they don’t get any ideas of putting more muscle in the video encoding. Then I’d sue whatever video startup offers the best quality videos with smoothest playback that infringes on copyright in any small way.