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10/31/2006
04:54 PM
David  DeJean
David DeJean
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Making Space At MySpace

There are two good reasons for MySpace and YouTube to purge copyrighted video from their sites. One is, of course, that the clips in question are patently illegal and their distribution without their owners' consent violates copyright law. The other is that they take up an enormous amount of virtual and psychological space, and cleaning them out might create a vacuum on those popular social sites that could be filled by genuinely creative original works--a commendation that digital retreads of <

There are two good reasons for MySpace and YouTube to purge copyrighted video from their sites. One is, of course, that the clips in question are patently illegal and their distribution without their owners' consent violates copyright law. The other is that they take up an enormous amount of virtual and psychological space, and cleaning them out might create a vacuum on those popular social sites that could be filled by genuinely creative original works--a commendation that digital retreads of South Park and The Daily Show clearly don't qualify for.The article on the MySpace housecleaning quotes one Kay Withers, research fellow at the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) in the United Kingdom, who opines that these sites "spur creativity with a new form of expression." She thinks "Introducing technologies to stop this could make many young people turn away from MySpace toward another networking site."

And this would be a bad thing because...?

MySpace and YouTube--and before them Napster and Gnutella--are the Internet Age's equivalent of the album-oriented rock FM stations of the '70s, the Top 40 radio of the '60s, and the jukeboxes of the '50s. They're the media technology of choice for distributing the shared culture of a demographic group.

A couple of things are different this time around. The media of choice are visual, rather than aural. Video seems to be replacing pop music, with a corresponding rise in Garage Band users and a decline in actual garage bands. (This may be as big a factor in the decline of the music industry as online piracy. I've never seen it analyzed.)

And the legal environment in which the culture exists is much more tightly drawn. All those garage bands freely abused Chuck Berry's copyright on "Johnny B. Goode" for all those years in a way that John Stewart is obviously not going to put up with.

This isn't necessarily a good thing. Freewheeling thinker Jeremy Rifkin wrote a book in 2000, The Age of Access, that was subtitled "The New Culture of Hypercapitalism Where All of Life Is a Paid-For Experience." It was a relatively early reaction to the Internet's role in what the book jacket calls "the commodification of human time and experience." Six years down the pike, with corporate interests in the ascendance of the Internet and its disruptive influence on the economy of entertainment and popular culture being brought under control, it's hard to argue Rifkin was wrong.

But I think there's reason to hope that the Internet will be part of the solution. What's needed is an open source culture, one built on an alternative to the current copyright system--a sort of GPL for what people think and talk about.

Because kids are going to be kids. Just because The Simpsons is copyrighted doesn't mean they're going to stop laughing at it and quoting it to one another and turning it into ringtones and answering-machine messages and uploaded videos. That's what people do with their culture. They use it to communicate. Maybe if we do succeed in clearing some of the copyrighted stuff off the Internet, we could actually make room for real creativity distributed in a creative way that works with the medium, rather than against it.

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