A full two years ago, I wrote a guest post that highlighted the never-ending saga involving digital rights management & ownership policies around user-generated video content. At the time, as Digiday and others later reported, many websites, publishers, and otherwise reputable video platforms were simply freebooting, that is ripping user-generated video content, uploading it to their designated player, and selling premium ads around it without permission from video owners. As if the long-standing online piracy issues weren’t bad enough, third parties were now monetizing stolen content without any retribution whatsoever.
Today, I can say with certainty that while inroads have been made across the landscape, so much of it is still far too ambiguous. In fact, with new emerging video platforms entering the fray at lightning speed, the topic has once again become a hotbed of discussion, as countless tech, media, and telecom companies are making aggressive pursuits of digital video, thus causing a growing concern among the content community about the litany of misappropriated use.
User-generated Video Content: Yes, it's Still Subject to Copyright Law
User-generated viral videos - the most organically shared and viewed of all video formats – has long suffered from a neglectful ‘home video’ perception. The stigma -- as often perpetuated by mass media forums -- suggests that content we create, upload, and share is somehow exempt from the same protections afforded to artists and media companies. How can that be? What sets us apart? We never hesitate to point out when content belongs to a major movie studio, media company, or music artist. So, what’s the difference here? Why is so-called ‘amateur’ content any different? How can we be so stringent in our guidelines and policies around big media, and negligent around defenses for common individuals?
Regardless of any commercial benefits, the same protection granted to a lip sync battle segment from the Tonight Show needs to be applied to a father who captures his son walking for the first time. The father, like NBCUniversal in this example, is the content creator / owner / distributor / rights holder, etc., and that entitles him to the same rights and remedies afforded to any artist, regardless of size or stature. Unfortunately, many independent video creators don’t have the know-how or resources to protect their own content, and face an unfair disadvantage.
How to Protect UGC Copyright
Which poses the question, “How do we effectively protect one’s copyright? “ Candidly, I write this from an advantageous position. I’m co-founder of one of the very few companies out there that built an entire team dedicated to the vehement protection of user-generated content. As the Washington Post recently acknowledged in their analysis of YouTube’s 10-year anniversary, “Today, you’ll rarely come across a viral video that isn’t rights-managed by a company like Jukin Media."
For us, rights management is an obligation to content creators regarding the protection of their intellectual property. With each new video we acquire, we absorb a sizable financial commitment required to manage thousands of copies that find their way illegally onto other platforms and other mediums. Our widespread efforts to police and issue DMCA takedowns when necessary – both on and off YouTube – is an enforceable representation that we’re doing everything in our power to effectively manage the rights of our content.
It’s this type of commitment to resources and this type of holistic mentality that is required to change the perception that UGC video is free to use, repurpose, and monetize without proper measure.
Further, it requires the largest video platforms to not only focus on a monetization strategy, but also a copyright protection strategy. Facebook native video, for instance, which has shown hair-raising growth in video view numbers, has been at the center of this debate recently, as The Verge and Business Insider have uncovered high-profile cases of copyright infringement on the platform.
Guys like Jerry Seinfeld can make misguided remarks about the “garbage bin” that is YouTube and the incessant crap that gets uploaded every second. But just because one carries star power in ‘show business’ and the other is an average citizen in ‘real life’ doesn’t change the plausibility. It’s universal. The notion that celebrity and big media have any distinct, perpetual right to their creation versus the rest of us is the same garbage bin mentality he’s denouncing.
While we’ve taken substantial measures to ensure user-generated video is encapsulated in the same forum, the online video space still lacks the overarching marching order to protect all creators, in any capacity. We don’t just need better management systems, we need better policies. We need real influence. And we need the biggest players in the space to take a stand. I’m looking at you Facebook.