Research on the issue of copyright and copyleft led me to the topic of teens generating content that they post on YouTube. At a TEDX lecture in 2007 Creative Commons creator Larry Lessig talked about “laws that choke creativity”. In it he brought up the “fair use” issue and lamented that young people today are being labeled as pirates for using digital tools as a means of speech. (Lessig 2007) He explained the content being created using copyrighted music and images was not piracy, but rather an extension of speech.
“The importance of this is not the technique that you see here, because of course every technique that you see here is something that television and film producers have been able to do for the last 50 years. The importance is that that technique has been democratized. It is now anybody with access to a $15-hundred dollar computer who can take sounds and images from the culture around them and say things differently. These tools of creativity have become tools of speech.” (Lessig 2007)
I found this profound and wanted to look further into the effects that heavy-handed copyright issues were having on content creation. As a founding member of the Creative Commons Lessig is a part of a movement to change the way digital media is created and accessed. (Lessig 2008)
Gabriella Coleman writes in Coding Freedom: The ethics and aesthetics of hacking that the current legal environment is one that is so hostile that developers are coming up with ways to circumvent that environment my literally creating a new economic market not above the law but working within its confines.
“Never before has a single legal regime of copyrights and patents reigned supreme across the globe, and yet never before in the short history of intellectual property law have we been graced with such powerful alternatives and possibilities, best represented by free software and a host of projects that have followed directly in its wake.” (Coleman 2013)
“Powerful alternatives” should be the new media buzzword and it is why I eventually came around to looking at YouTube and its impact on aspects of the entertainment industry. My interest was sparked by an article I came across that claimed Youtubers, meaning those that create content for YouTube, are more popular with U.S. teens than are traditional movie and TV stars. Susanne Ault writes “a survey Variety commissioned in July that found the five most influential figures among Americans ages 13-18 are all YouTube faves, eclipsing mainstream celebs including Jennifer Lawrence and Seth Rogen. The highest-ranking figures were Smosh, the online comedy team of Ian Andrew Hecox and Anthony Padilla, both 26.” (Ault 2014)
Could this be true? I began looking into this phenomenon and what it could mean for the future of the entertainment industry. What I found throughout my research is that no one really has solid answer on what the future will bring, but many have looked at the trends and hypothesized about what may be coming like Stuart Cunningham and Jon Silver write in Screen Distribution and the New King Kongs of the Online World. They write that they expect YouTube to be the front runner in the new digital entertainment industry laying the foundation for “reinventing itself as a global television network on-line.” (Cunningham, S. & Silver, J. 2013) Cunningham and Silver looked at YouTube competitors Apple, Amazon, Netflix, and Hulu and their race to grab digital audiences. What they found was that all are struggling to find their place in this new digital age as the entertainment industry moves away from movie theaters and television sets, but they are faring better than the cable and television networks trying to play catch-up. They also found that the firms that own major firms in Hollywood have failed in controlling the online distribution of their content despite investing millions of dollars to try and do just that.(Cunningham, S. & Silver, J. 2013)
YouTube celebrated its 10th anniversary in February, but the website has gone through tremendous change since Chad Hurley, Steve Chen, and Jawed Karim created the website after being inspired by the Janet Jackson wardrobe malfunction controversy and the 2004 Tsunami in Asia. (Wilson 2015) The website started out for user generated content which many times included the copyrighted material Lessig discussed in his TedX lecture. (Lessig 2007) This led to traffic on the site increasing to 100 million video views per day in the first year. That drew the attention of digital giant Google who in 2006 bought the upstart for $1.65 billion in an all stock transaction.(Arrington 2006) The website reported in 2015 it had more than one billion users with 300 hours of video uploaded every minute. (Wilson 2015) YouTube has been described as a new hybrid cultural medium; part industry, part hobby. (Grosswiler 2012) Paul Grosswiler writes “YouTube reflects a symbiotic relationship between amateur cultural products and commercial cultural products.” Jean Burgess and Joshua Green write that the creation of videos by either users or entertainment industry firms are often indistinguishable for users whether or not the videos are “produced for viral marketing purposes or those seized upon by marketing campaigns.”(Burgess Green 2009) As Patricia Lang writes YouTube has asked users to become a partner in the website’s success as they now offer YouTube partners of monetizing their videos. (Lang 2015)
“YouTube partners agree to have ads placed within or next to their videos. In return, they receive a share of advertising revenue that results from the ads. Over time partners may develop a more advanced amateur or even professional status on the site.” (Lang 2015)
This way of raising revenues involves the user at all levels. It furthers the connection that the users already have with YouTube by involving the user not only in content creation, but also with raising revenues from which the user also benefits. YouTube also searches the content for copyrighted material, which if it appears, they put ads on the video and give the proceeds to copyright holder. I personally experienced this when a video I posted using a Nine Inch Nails song was monetized for the “copyright holder” as it stated on my Creator Studio screen. This policy prevents hordes of content across YouTube from being taken down while also prevent content creators and YouTube from being sued for copyright infringement. YouTube also charges pay-per-view for some copyrighted shows which are mostly generated from traditional film and television studios.
A big part of YouTube’s success has been due to what technophiles and Google call Generation C. ( Rushkoff 2014; Google Staff 2013) The ‘C’ stands for Content or as Google describes the generation, ‘C’ because “ they thrive on Connection, Community, Creation, and Curation.” Google has integrated this Generation C into a part of their marketing plan for YouTube. (Google staff 2013)
“They’re not a generation in the traditional sense – about 65% of Gen C are under 35, but regardless of how old they are, they’re the sort of mavens who shape opinion and lead thought. Put simply, Gen C isn’t a quirk of when or where you were born; it’s a way of life.” (Google staff 2013)
This way of life is embraced by a majority of teenagers as seen in the article that started off this research stating that YouTube stars are now more popular with teens than traditional media stars. (Ault 2014) I had to check this out with my internet savvy teenage boys, 14-year-old Zach and 11-year-old Gradey who profess to like Youtube better than TV shows. During an interview with me, they professed that the reason they liked YouTube better than TV shows was because of the following were better in their view point on YouTube and they liked or didn’t care about low production quality.(Neeley-Nicolini 2015)
- Creativity of Content
- Educational value
- Production quality unimportant
Zach and Gradey aren’t alone in their affection for YouTube. Other YouTube users commented in a Google generated video and a broadcast news piece on PBS’ Frontline that they also like the website because of the above mentioned reasons. ( Rushkoff 2014; Google Staff 2013)
The first point that comes up with Youtube users is availability. Users like being able to control when and where they are able to view content and the fact that some YouTubers post videos everyday or more frequently than new episodes of TV are aired.
The second point YouTube users like about content is Relatability. Many user feel because YouTubers are “normal” people like them they can relate better to them than the average Hollywood starlet. They see content providers are them and could be them if only they get enough likes and views. This is not untrue. In “Generation Like” Youtuber Baby Scumbag is a teen boy who began posting videos of him and his friends skateboarding. Now his popular videos are more in the “Jackass” vein, but he began his rise to stardom as 13-year-old Steven Fernandez from a downtrodden neighborhood in L.A. posting skateboard videos. (Rushkoff 2014; Google Staff 2013, Neeley-Nicolini 2015, Conti 2013)
The third point that users say why they like YouTube is creativity of content. There are vlogs, let’s plays, and other forms of original content not seen in movie theaters or on TV. YouTube Users say they like this different type of content and find it entertaining. (Neeley-Nicolini 2015, Conti 2013)
The fourth point why Youtube users like its content is they can learn different skills from traditional scholastic studies to how to play a video game. (Thistlewaite 2015; Google Staff 2013) Crash Course and The Virtual School are popular YouTube channels which post videos about traditional scholastic subjects. (Teach Magazine 2015, Buffalo News 2014)
Jacksepticeye is one of the most popular Youtubers with his videos called “lets plays”. The video is basically him playing a video game and commenting on it as he plays. (Neeley-Nicolini 2015) Teens say they like him because not only is he humorous but they learn how to play the video game while watching. (Thistlewaite 2015; Neeley-Nicolini 2015)
And the final point why Youtube users like its content is production quality seems not to matter to many Youtube fans when it comes to whether or not they like the video. (Mueller 2009, Lange 2015, Neeley-Nicolini 2015 )
While it remains to be seen if Youtube can become the next “network television” station or replace traditional media, it is clear that YouTube’s popularity, especially with teens seems to be rising and eclipsing that of traditional media. Lessig’s worries that copyright laws are stifling creativity could be lessened now that Generation C has found a way around the traditional copyrighted material of Big Hollywood, with a little help from their friend YouTube.
Ault, Susanne (Aug. 5 2014) Survey: YouTube Stars More Popular Than Mainstream Celebs Among U.S. Teens. Variety U.S. Edition
Lange, Patricia G. (03 May. 2015.) Kids on YouTube : Technical Identities and Digital Literacies. Walnut Creek: Left Coast Press, 2014. Ebook Library. Web.
Cunningham, S. & Silver, J. (2013). Screen distribution and the new King Kongs of the online world. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Lessig, L. (2007). Larry Lessig on laws that choke creativity [Video]. Presentation given at TED2007, Monterey, CA.
Lessig, L (Oct 11 2008) In Defense of Piracy Digital technology has made it easy to create new works from existing art, but copyright law has yet to catch up. Wall Street Journal D
Coleman, E. G. (2013). Coding freedom: The ethics and aesthetics of hacking. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press
Wilson, Cherry (Feb. 14, 2015) Happy Birthday Tube You: Video-sharing website turns ten. The Sun (newspaper), London UK
Arrington, Michael (Oct. 9, 2006) Google Has Acquired YouTube http://techcrunch.com/2006/10/09/google-has-acquired-youtube/
Google staff. Meet Gen C: The YouTube Generation (may 2013) web article by Google.
Rushkoff, Douglas. (Feb.18, 2014) Frontline: Generation Like. PBS http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/generation-like/
Neeley-Nicolini, Melissa (May 2, 2015) Z&G Why We Love YouTubers. YouTube Video
Burgess, J. & Green, J. (Eds.). (2009). YouTube: Online video and participatory culture. Malden, MA: Polity.
Conti, Allie (April 15, 2013) Apparently, Women Love 13-year-old skaters named Baby Scumbag. Vice.com
Thistlewaite, Liam (Feb 5 2015) Teen Enjoy A Variety of YouTube, The Charleston Gazette, Charleston, WV newspaper
Teach Magazine, (May 15, 2014) Webstuff Educational YouTube Channels http://teachmag.com/archives/7565
Buffalo News (Oct.30, 2014) YouTube’s educational side: the site where so many teens turn for entertainment is increasingly becoming a place for them to go when they need help with school work. Buffalo, NY
Müller: (2009) ‘Where Quality Matters: Discourses on the Art of Video Making for YouTube.’ In: Pelle Snickars & Patrick Vonderau (eds.): The YouTube Reader. London: Wallflower Press 2009, pp. 146-160. E. Müller: ‘Where Quality Matters: Discourses on the Art of Video Making for YouTube.’ In: Pelle Snickars & Patrick Vonderau (eds.): The YouTube Reader. London: Wallflower Press 2009, pp. 146-160.