YouTube helps to screw the little guy

ahree.jpg A couple of days ago a friend of mine released a film they had literally been working on for years. It is only 3 minutes long, but as soon as you watch it you will know realize the magnitude of their undertaking.

Of all the sites on the Internets these days she you could have published this film, she chose Atom Films because they would actually pay her a royalty everytime her film was viewed. Now, she may not have made “quit your job” money (as Anil might say), but she might, as her Atom Films contact told her, earn the cost of a latte every once in a while. Not much, granted, but it is an important reward for anyone who put so much time, energy and heart into something they this this.

So, she emailed her friends to tell them about the new film and word began to spread. Then someone ripped the video and posted it to YouTube, it got dugg and before she knew it the film rocketed to the top of the "charts" and was viewed well over a million times. And each time that happened, there was one more fraction of a latte she didn't earn.

One of the consequences of rampant piracy is that it engenders a behavior in which people don’t consider who they are stealing from, because many who pirate simply don’t believe they are stealing. I just wish more of them would develop a Robin Hood mentality where they were more conscientious about who they were "borrowing" from.

Wishful thinking I know.

But perhaps artists, especially someone like Ahree, could add a bumper to the beginning of their films in the ilk of the classic FBI Warning to help people understand that they are stealing from a real live person and not just another filthy rich studio:

Starving Artist Warning

12 Comments

Well, I heard about this before it hit YouTube, and I did try to watch it on AtomFilmz. Despite having every available Free and non-free media library installed, I was unable to watch it on my Linux box (although AtomFilmz resized my browser window several times while trying). I even went so far as to turn off AdBlock and NoScript and tried faking my user-agent. I was exposed to their ads several times, while uttering failing to see the actual film. This does not make me want to rush out and support them. (And naturally I wasn't allowed to download it so I could try to watch it on offline players or convert it to a more palatable format.) I even went to the author's home page looking for alternatives, but she just pointed me back to AtomFilmz.

Anyway, I have supported -- financially, you know, with cash and stuff -- independent artists before, both in large ways and small ways. I tried to support this one too. I really tried. AtomFilmz wouldn't let me.

I'm unsympathetic, Byrne. Your warning is just one more thing to remove when putting the film on YouTube.

Try watching what's presumably Atom Film's greatest success—Star Wars Gangsta Rap. You'll first be greeted with an introduction page, then a fifteen second advertisement, and then finally the film. It's no smooth sailing from there, however. Every film I have watched at Atom has been jerky and choppy, due probably to bandwidth concerns.

Now click on one of the YouTube results for the video. You'll be watching the film immediately. Sure, the quality is poor, there are hundreds of unnecessary duplicates, and all of the friendly Flash controls of the original are gone. But it's immediate! And YouTube (acts like it) has the bandwidth to burn. Atom's extra click, short ad, and unreliable play make it an eternity to wait for rappin' Yoda.

No doubt about it, if Star Wars Gangsta Rap were released now, we'd be watching it on YouTube. Two of the Google hits above are for fan tributes to the song (a live version and a Sonic the Hedgehog redub), something not seen and not encouraged at Atom Films.

And where are the Atom Films view counts? Could Ahree hope for a million views if the film had stayed there, even with the Digg mention? Would people click through? Could Atom handle the traffic? And would the Digg submitter have seen the film if it wasn't on YouTube?

I hope Ahree doesn't think of her massive YouTube audience only as lost lattes.

Mark - I appreciate the extra time you put into supporting Ahree. It seems like you really went the extra mile. That matters. It really does - even if you ultimately failed over to YouTube.

Mike - I think you have more in common in regards to experience as Mark has, but might I comment - you totally miss the point.

The experience Atom Films provides is orthogonal to what my thesis was.

By "fixing" the user experience problem, you cut the artist completely out of the loop - in fact any potential she once had to make money has been completely shifted to a third party. The artist has lost control, and in my opinion that is bad.

To some extent we must respect the choices the artist makes - and in this day and age - the site one posts a video is one of those choices to respect due to the business models (both of Atom in this case as well as Ahree's) involved.

Mike - your tone is almost one of someone who is saying "fuck the artist," user experience trumps everything else, even at the expense of the artist. You aren't saying that are you?

As for the difficulties you experienced - that is totally and completely lame. Between the choice of seeing the film vs not seeing the film - I would advise you to see the film even at the expense of the artist (I am a hypocrite I know), but I say that because I think that the exposure Ahree gained here is almost as valuable as the royalties she may have accrued. It is just unfortunate that once it is on YouTube there is no going back, and her earning potential plummeted.

But then again - I might suggest you move to Windows or a Mac or some other platform or linux distribution that isn't such a pain in the ass. I might. But I won't.

If you want to retain control over something, don't post it to the internet.

Mike—your tone is almost one of someone who is saying "fuck the artist," user experience trumps everything else, even at the expense of the artist. You aren't saying that are you?

Oh, Byrne, I wouldn't say it like that, but...yes, I am.

After a piece of art has been created, it is curated, experienced, discussed, remembered—an artist is unnecessary at this point. It really is all about "user" experience.

Your earlier point is valid: it is not often a good idea to disrespect the choices an artist makes—it's easy to bowdlerize Shakespeare, harder to improve him.

It probably isn't a good idea to dump an honest-to-goodness short film into the YouTube sewer of videophone clips, either. But someone thought it was worth doing. Others thought it was worth watching. That's the only justification needed.

Mike - you are absolutely right.

This particular hit close to home for me because it was a friend, and I wanted them to see something for the fruits of their labor.

Its too bad YouTube can't adopt a similar model: where users can opt into YouTube attaching a 10-second ad to the beginning of a video in exchange for a share in the revenue...

Well the good news is that Youtube has taken down this video, but it sounds like they took their sweet time doing it.

I completely agree with your post Byrne, and it's a major problem all over the world. Something's going to break soon. Now all of the good, interesting movies are being replaced with reality crap. I don't watch movies for reality, I watch them because they are unreal.

Something has to be done before all I can watch is videos of people dancing to bad music.

Sell your baby for a cup of Latte. It's sad to see ALL of these corporations make so much money while piggy back riding on the artist. Well in your friend's case, not even a cheap Mocha. lol

Overall, I don't disagree that the rewards for the artist and not just "he who hath the biggest pipe" should be in place. We need to address that. However, you bring up one of the most commonly abused pieces of logic in the debate over Internet piracy (and, in fact, piracy of any form): the false value of pirated IP. Specifically, you mention that every YouTube viewing of this film is one more fractional latte that the artist didn't get. This is a serious flaw in the argument. The film wasn't very popular on Atom Films, but on YouTube it is. Does that mean that if it hadn't been copied to YouTube that it would have been just as popular on Atom Films? Probably not. YouTube does an excellent job of automatically promoting popular videos to their VERY large user base, and while a digg article probably got the ball rolling, YouTube would have snowballed the process. Could Atom Film have ever provided the same popularity for that film? Almost certainly not.

In the end, it's even possible that the film got MORE traffic on Atom because of the YouTube success than it would have if it had been left to its own devices. That's probably just about as unlikely, though, as the idea that every YouTube viewing was a "lost" Atom viewing. This is the same bad logic used by companies when they say that every single music download from file-sharing services is a lost sale in a retail store. It's an absurd idea, and we should stop perpetuating it.

On a completely separate point, Mischa said that if you want to retain distribution control over something, you should keep it off the Internet, and I think that deserves our attention. There's a popular phrase that's widely misunderstood: "Information wants to be free." Some see this phrase as an unfortunate over-anthropomorphic justification for piracy, but that's not how it's intended. It's simply a statement that information obeys laws that are similar to those that govern the physical world, and like a gas in a container, information will tend to expand to fill a void. This happens because human beings are particularly fond of sharing information (and hiding it). So when you say, "here's some information and let me tell you how you're allowed to share it," you're essentially telling a gas "here's a container, let me tell you what parts of it you can expand into." You're pretty much doomed from the outset.

What we really need is a way to embrace that information-sharing tendency that people have and - at the same time - reward the people who write, edit, design and otherwise author valuable forms of media. That's a hard problem, and it turns out it's easier to blame YouTube or file sharers, but eventually we'll have to stop tilting at windmills and implement reasonable solutions to these problems.

I agree - the ideal solution does not exist. The question is what do you do in the mean time. Generally speaking, I am almost always bias in favor of openness. However, how open something is should be left solely at the discretion of the creator of something. In this case, the artist posted to Atom Films, and someone else ripped it and posted it to YouTube, circumventing the artist's wishes.

Was that right? I don't think so. Even if there were ancillary benefits.

I really like the metaphor of a gas filling a container. I think that is very apt and true to a large extent, if the container is a metaphor for the Internet. But a container is not a completely adequate metaphor for an online service, unless you consider there are outside forces helped to poke holes and encourage what is contained to escape.

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  • I really like the metaphor of a gas filling a container. I think that is very apt and true to a large extent, if the container is a metaphor for the Internet. But a container is not a completely adequate metaphor for an ...

  • I agree - the ideal solution does not exist. The question is what do you do in the mean time. Generally speaking, I am almost always bias in favor of openness. However, how open something is should be left solely at the ...

  • On a completely separate point, Mischa said that if you want to retain distribution control over something, you should keep it off the Internet, and I think that deserves our attention. There's a popular phrase that's wi...

  • Overall, I don't disagree that the rewards for the artist and not just "he who hath the biggest pipe" should be in place. We need to address that. However, you bring up one of the most commonly abused pieces of logic in ...

  • Sell your baby for a cup of Latte. It's sad to see ALL of these corporations make so much money while piggy back riding on the artist. Well in your friend's case, not even a cheap Mocha. lol ...

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