What the opaque phenomenon of unlicensed feature film copies on YouTube says about the state of digitalisation of an entire industry.
The film- and audiovisual industry could turn their relationship with YouTube into a fruitful partnership pretty quick. The only problem is, the entire industry does not really seem to give a — pardon the language — crap about this opportunity. An impressive example about good digitalisation going wrong.
It’s crazy, it’s bizarre. It’s incomprehensible to me: Anno 2017, we are almost exactly twelve years into YouTube.com. Over time, the page that has become a household name for video content of all sorts. It seems just not for those, that should embrace the platform by default — the film and audiovisual Industry. The latter still seems to be busy understanding what is going on there. Either they are in no need to adapt to the new player as everyone is already rich enough, or they are gridlocked in busy thinking about other things they consider more important (whatever this could be …). Or they still somehow think of YouTube just as a platform for all sorts of promotional efforts like trailer screenings.
Whatever it is blocking their view on the potential of YouTube and the reality about what is happening on the platform, it leads to the fact that YouTube.com is more and more full of totally pristine copies of feature films, TV shows, TV films etc. uploaded by consumers — And no one from the copyright owner side really seems to care about it in a sustainable way. For example, let’s have a look the copy of Luc Bessons 1994 classic “Léon: The Professional”, I digged last night (screenshot as above). The copy is of good quality and therefore 100% ok to watch — with subtitles and all. It seems to be out there for over a year now (Uploaded in July 2016) — or for the duration of 237.222 film views (ca 8K views more where gained with the 24hrs it took me to write this post). The uploader even #hashtagged it with all the relevant keywords for actors and things — to make finding it easy.
The only people that do not seem to have looked for it yet are those who own the copyright to this great piece of film. A fact, that leaves me sitting there with many, many ???s.
As YouTube, or, to be precise, YouTubes owner company Alphabet (formerly, better, know as: Google) did a lot over the years to make claiming copyrights on You Tube super easy. They even put everything you need to know about it in one place: https://www.youtube.com/yt/copyright/ So, by today, claiming a takedown notice from YouTube for copyright violations in uploaded content is a walk in the park, compared to the early days of the platform. Automatic content ID matches make ID claims a SOP if … Yes: if the content owners decide to fight for their rights.
But in the case of “Léon” as mentioned, nobody seems to be interested to fight. And by saying fight, essentially I mean to fill out a form and/or upload a reference copy of the film to Googles servers, to make sure the robots can do the work they are supposed to do. There is no lawyer needed; your average intern can do the job.
“Léon” doesn’t seem to be alone. I could post a long list of similar examples — across all genres, budget sizes, ages of film and TV content. Do a YouTube search yourself using some of your favourite names. It’s easy — all the uploaded files exhibit the real names. Click a bit beyond the first 20,30 search results …
How can this happen in an industry that — and for good reason — never gets tired explaining how much money they loose from piracy? In an industry, that has to work so hard to deal with the various innovations digital throws at their business models. We make the military chasing KimDotCom but we do not care about our own stuff on YouTube?
What makes this situation even more mysterious and opaque to me is that we, as the audiovisual industry, even miss an opportunity to make business that could help us to monetise our hard-earned content of films, shows, episodes etc. Regardless of what sort of regulation would be ideal for the audiovisual industries vs. the current state of legislation. Youtube is here, and its here to stay. So let’s deal with it and find win-win situations. It does not even be invented; the music industry can serve as a good example; they have learned to squeeze at least some lemonade from the YouTube citrus tree.
I totally understand that under certain circumstances some copyright holders might have lost interest in taking care of certain IPs. So why not giving the crowd of YouTube users the chance to show some TLC to such content by giving them the freedom to upload and present it? Given the quality of some of the uploads, now and then they do great post-production studio work free of charge. Thanks guys! :-) The only thing we would have to do as filmmakers or IP-/Copyright holders is to kindly negotiate a deal that gives everyone involved an upside — reads: Let’s split all advertisement revenue fairly between the copyright holder, the platform, the uploader of the copy. I do not see a reason why this shouldn’t work — at least for certain films. And the infrastructure would be in place already — Youtube has a well established system to screen content against eyeballs on advertisement.
Think about it based on the example of “Léon” … Just imagine the copyright owner would have gotten a meager 5 cent per view. Given this would just happen without anymore human interaction (no advertising etc.) — adding up over time. Furthermore, I’m sure YouTube is interested in negotiating better deals for more content considered more valuable. But that’s another story.
Howsoever. With the current handling of their properties on YouTube, the film- and content industry does not at all unlock the entire potential of their material affected by the platform. That’s a shame and the industry has to learn finally to stand up for it’s rights in the digital world. It’s also a clear sign, the digitalisation of this industry is still in it’s early days.
P.S.: Punishing those copyrights holders here that do not seem to care at all, I’m well aware that there are companies out there already doing a great job on this. Try to find a really watchable episode of Seinfeld on YouTube for example. You will not be successful beyond some blurred, distorted versions. There is a reason for that … It’s just that not everyone of the serious players seems to be taking this on with enough of the same dedication.