November 18th, 2006
The widely-used and much reviled term “user-generated content” implies that somebody is making something. But the dirty little secret of “user-generated” sites like YouTube and MySpace is that much of the content is not made by the users themselves — it’s appropriated from someone else.
So while everyone was watching Google engage in “frantic” negotiations with rights holders for all of that user “appropriation” on YouTube, MySpace was quietly pursuing its own rounds of negotiations — one of which has now blown up in Rupert Murdoch’s face. Universal Music has slapped MySpace with a lawsuit that may well determine the future of user-appropriated content. (Perhaps Sumner Redstone isn’t regretting the loss of MySpace quite so much today.)
Cynthia Brumfield says the lawsuit is a “good thing,” and I agree:
With two giants duking it out in the federal courts, the likelihood is good that some kind of legal precedent will be set. Maybe video file sharing sites (and other video-enabled Internet businesses) can finally get definitive legal ground rules, whatever they may be, providing a higher degree of certainty so that the industry can move forward.
In addition to dispelling the spectre of legal uncertainty, I hope we can also get past all of the disingenuous buzzwords and hype talk. At the end of the day, whenever anybody uploads or posts something to the web, it’s just a form of publishing. What’s radical about the new digital reality is that I can publish anything that I made — and I can publish anything that anybody else made.
Basic common sense tells you that if I were to take all of the content from another blog, publish it here, and then run ads against it, that would be wrong. Much of the tangled web we now face results from the euphemistic obfuscation of terms like “user-generated content.” If we call it what it is — for example, people streaming music from their MySpace pages while MySpace runs ads on those pages — then we can have a clear debate about the right and wrong of it.
Here’s another great example of how too much hype is making people talk nonsense:
Social media Web site Gather.com said Friday it completed a $10 million round of financing led by Pilot House Ventures that also included media giants Hearst Corp. and McGraw-Hill Cos.
Other investors include Jack Connors, chairman of advertising agency Hill Holliday and Gather.com CEO Tom Gerace and his family. The community Web site, which invites online chatter about politics, food and the arts, said it will use the funds to partner with leading media properties, as well as make plans for international expansion.
“Hearst recognizes the trend that audiences are increasingly consuming content created by people,” said Kenneth Bronfin, president of Hearst Interactive Media.
“Content created by people” — as opposed to content created by journalists and other non-people.
Please put the Kool-Aid down and back away slowly.