TelevisionWeek contributing writer Daisy Whitney is blogging about the pinnacles and pitfalls facing viewers who want to consume television in new ways. Check in frequently as Daisy kicks the tires on the new media juggernaut and dishes on which services do -- and don’t -- make the cut.


Trial and Error

TVWeek Confessional—Have you Watched Pirated Clips?

March 13, 2007 12:36 PM

YouTube doesn’t feel like a pirate site. I know, I know. Viacom will say it is. But it doesn’t feel like those naughty peer-to-peer sites where you have to know a secret password and duck down a dark alley of the Web to use.

Today, Viacom filed a lawsuit against YouTube seeking more than $1 billion in damages for copyright violation, contending that nearly 160,000 unauthorized clips of Viacom programming have been viewed more than 1.5 billion times on YouTube.

I’m wondering how Viacom tracked down all those clips. I’m picturing an army of sweat shop workers in a windowless office probably in the basement of Viacom’s corporate offices plugging away “South Park” and “Laguna Beach” and “Jon Stewart” into YouTube’s search bar to track down those 160,000 clips.

The fact is, it’s probably easy for them to find the unauthorized clips on YouTube. That’s because it’s just plain easy to find video on YouTube. That’s why YouTube has become and likely will remain the first and foremost stop on the Web for finding video. And that’s why I hope big media and YouTube can work it all out and be friends, so we can continue to have a resource on the Web.

So I’ll go first here. I’ll step into the circle and admit my own piracy culpability. First, let it be said that I am opposed to piracy. I don’t buy illegal DVDs, I don’t watch pirated DVDs. I have no problem paying $1.99 for a TV show on iTunes.

But sometimes if I just want to see a certain scene from a movie I’ll check if it’s on YouTube. I watched “The Departed” over the weekend and went to YouTube last night to look up “The Departed.” And I found not only a cleverly edited two-minute clip of nearly every example of the script’s favorite word (Yes, it takes at least two full minutes to include every utterance), but I also located several posts of scenes from the movie. I watched a few—the scene where Leonardo DiCaprio asks Vera Farmiga for valium and the scene where Jack Nicholson tells Leo that he has an “informer in his unit.”

So that’s my confession. I hope Warner Brothers doesn’t come sue me now. Now it’s your turn. I want to hear from the media executives out there who I suspect are also going to YouTube to look up a clip or two, a scene here or there. You don’t have to use your name, but c’mon lob in a comment here—admit it and tell us that you’re a closet pirate too.


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Comments (4)


Yes, it's true that media executives use youtube for reasons just as you
mention - you want to find a clip from an episode of one of your shows
(or someone else's shows) and it's easier to find it on youtube than to
pore thru your dvd library or borrow a dvd from someone else. So no one
would argue the merits of the efficiency of youtube. But the truth is
also that their traffic (and their 1.6 billion dollar valuation) is
fueled largely by the availability of content on their site that they
don't own or have permission to distribute and their insistence to the actual content owners (who strangely enough are in the habit of being paid for the content they themselves pay to produce or license) that they are neither capable of nor responsible for proactively vetting the clips that are posted (unlike, say, vmix, which vets each clips before it's posted). The day they start policing their site and take down all the unauthorized talk show clips, sports clips and tv show clips is the day
their traffic goes away. By the same measure, the day they try to monetize their traffic by forcing users to watch a 15 second ad before each clip is also the day their traffic goes away.

Here's the thing I have a hard time with in regards to the Media Compaines. The exposure that a site like YouTube gives to a show like Jon Stewart for example, will cause online viewers who do NOT watch the show in my opinion to watch it, if they enjoy the clip. All of these sites create more awareness for products, and truly good content will see the benefits of this "free advertising". Now, if that new entity that is NOT charging you to showcase your brand makes money in doing this, are they crooks or are they smart? Maybe YouTube should take down all the copyright materials and then charge the owners to post them...


In addition to awareness, YouTube makes for an effective tool for fans to show their friends why they like a show -- you can tell them about a great Daily Show segment, but "Check out this clip" is far more likely to make those friends into a Daily Show viewer. YouTube is effective at getting those "You've got to see this" moments like with Keith Olbermann's Special Comments or Pumpkin and New York brawling on Flavor of Love.


Anyone want to handicap the lawsuit? Who's going to win and why?

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