Have you turned up your nose at YouTube for being born from low quality, financially unsustainable, pirated content? If you've made that argument in conversation before (and we now many people do) - new claims from YouTube itself now indicate that you'd be wrong.
The official Google Blog made a post this morning following up on a New York Times story last week where the company claimed that 90% of the owners of copyrighted content are now advertising against pirated video they own when they find it using YouTube's new content ID technology. The news upends many long held beliefs about the site.
Argument: Content ID is Next to Impossible
Many have argued that YouTube wasn't capable of finding all the pirated content uploaded to its site - that it's been an arms race pitting human monitors and shoddy ID technology against a sea of users uploading content. Video maverick Mark Cuban has argued that YouTube's claim it can't identify content was refuted by the fact that it manages to keep porn off the site and thus that the company couldn't plead ignorance about copyright either.
Right: We don't know if there's some direct financial overlap between Katy Perry's publishers and the ringtone site advertising on this video of hers, but at 600K views we're pretty sure the video's rights holders have seen it and chosen to let it remain on the site. Is that "what good girls do?"
Now it appears that YouTube's newest content ID technology is doing quite a good job of finding copyrighted content. That alone is a game changer.
Argument: Media Companies Don't Want Low Quality Versions of Their Content on 3rd Party Sites
It's also been argued that many media companies are unwilling to have their content appear online in any form other than high quality files on their own webistes. That way they can maximize ad revenue and protect their brands. YouTube's claim that 90% of content owners who find their work on YouTube are running ads on the site instead of demanding it be removed indicates a sea change in big copyright holder attitudes.
Scarcity is no longer a tenable strategy in a world of digital content and file quality is clearly not as important to consumers as many content producers believed it would be. Imagine what the web would be like if music producers took a similar strategy with mp3 files on other sites. Those same parties are undoubtedly among the participants in YouTube's new program, using the ID technology to find songs being used along with user created video. Unfortunately, the music industry may be too greedy to support this same kind of model throughout a whole ecosystem of websites. Witness the plight of Pandora, a wildly popular service that's trying to play by the rules.
Argument: YouTube Wouldn't Be What it Is Without Pirated Content
One of the most commonly made critiques of YouTube is that it was only able to ramp up fast because it caught copyright holders by surprise; that it was born of illigitimate uploads of pirated TV shows and movie clips.
The latest turn of events leads us to wonder whether this question was turned around the wrong way. Couldn't we just as well assert that YouTube was lucky to survive before a time when copyright holders understood that they had options with content that they owned rights to on the site? Had copyright holders come down hard and fast in the earliest days, as they did in later months surrounding the Google acquisition, then YouTube wouldn't still be pushing the envelope and opening new doors for distribution and monetization today.
There's a world of possibilities beyond even what's being done today by the most open minded copyright owners. The Times article mentions Electronic Arts, for example, who encourages users to upload Spore related content and then uses YouTube's ID technology to find it and highlight the best stuff. Any number of other campaigns have tried to get people to use a common tag in their metadata or upload through a dedicated portal powered by the YouTube API. YouTube is a chaotic place, though - companies may get the greatest connection with their fans by letting those fans upload how they like and using YouTube's ID tech to find them afterword.
This is Big
This isn't just about copyright and advertising, this is about a new paradigm that big copyright holders may be catching up with. From video to user data, it's not about scarcity and silos anymore. It's about keeping your users and fans through better service and compelling value-ads. Let's hope this YouTube experience is more than just a flash in the pan and that the industry is genuinely moving in this direction.