In 2006, Time Magazine named "you" Person of the Year. "You" are the individual users who create content for the internet, and post it on websites that host photos, videos, music and text--sites like YouTube, Facebook, MySpace, Vimeo, and Flickr. But your ability to create and post original content online is being threatened.
Viacom sued YouTube in 2007 for $1 billion, claiming that YouTube should be responsible for policing its users' content for copyright violations. The court found that YouTube expeditiously responds to copyright holders' requests to remove infringing content and complies with the law. But the media giant has now appealed, seeking to subject YouTube (and other websites that host content) to billions of dollars of liability. If successful, the vibrant era of user-generated content as we know it could come to an abrupt end.
If it is not enough for YouTube, MySpace and Flickr to respond within minutes to copyright holders' requests, then what standard must these websites meet? According to Viacom, these sites must review, research and investigate the origins of each of the hundreds of thousands of videos uploaded to their sites each day and approve each individually in advance. Today we can post media online in mere minutes. Under Viacom's proposed rules, however, it could take days or weeks, and if YouTube can't figure out if the poster actually has all the rights (via license or otherwise), it should not be posted at all.
We call ourselves the Sideshow Coalition because Viacom has called us a "sideshow." In fact, we are today's creators, distributing to the world an unprecedented quantity and variety of art and building our careers through free online distribution channels such as YouTube. Viacom apparently considers us marginal and irrelevant. Or perhaps it views our success as a threat to its business.
We believe the public wants and values creative expression unfiltered and unmediated by major media corporations. Our work is not simply some distraction to be viewed on the way to the big show. Our videos have collectively been viewed about three billion times - and we are only a few dozen out of millions of users who have posted original content on YouTube. This enthusiasm for our work has enabled us to pursue careers in entertainment, and through YouTube channels we earn revenue from the videos we create.
We emphatically support the protection of intellectual property; creating intellectual property is how most of us make a living. But our goal is to ensure that everyone has the ability to share and profit from their intellectual property, not just big corporations. We love the Web because it levels the playing field. Anyone with talent, internet access and a video camera can present his or her ideas. Before the internet, you either did business with major media companies on their terms or you did not earn a living from entertainment because you could not reach a mass audience.
The internet has liberated us and millions of others from gatekeepers who control the traditional distribution channels for our work. We can now be our own television stations, our own record labels and our own publishers. We can also be our own newsmakers and non-profits, using sites like YouTube to achieve social change. People have used YouTube to increase voter turnout and registration in the United States, to spread awareness about the Iranian government's human rights abuses and to raise money to feed the hungry.
The "protections" Viacom seeks would benefit itself at the expense of "us"--millions of independent media producers and billions of consumers. To foster creativity, innovation, free expression and economic opportunity, we will continue to urge the court to preserve the
freedom of the internet.
The authors are part of the Sideshow Coalition, a group of creative individuals unaffiliated with a major corporation who post original content on YouTube.