One of the foundations of blogging has been sharing: we share links, we share stories with credit, we may repost an image or video. To date, the system has worked well, but there’s a new trend that replaces the notion of sharing with greed; a greed for traffic and a greed for attention.
We can’t embed an image from another site, so the expected norm has been a system of crediting images used. But video was different. YouTube popularized embedding video, so that instead of having to take a local copy and upload the video to present it on your own site, adding a video became an embed code away. The original uploader wins because they get more views on their video, and where appropriate a link back to their site, and bloggers get to show the video quickly and without any hassles. But things are changing. There’s a growing trend to rip a video and upload it as your own, complete with site branding.
I first noticed the trend on the Fail Blog, from the guys behind icanhascheezburger.com. Here’s an example of a video on the front page today. Note that this isn’t their video, but they’ve uploaded it to their own account and added failblog.org branding to it (and other times the branding includes “as seen on failblog.org).
I sat through a presentation from owner Ben Huh at Gnomedex in August (video can be viewed in this post) and I wanted to ask a question about why they were reuploading videos like this, but I didn’t get the chance. Huh was asked though about copyright, given that most images and videos on the site come from external sources, and all he said in response (and this is for memory) that they don’t have a problem with copyright 95% of the time, but they do act on any complaints when they come in. I’d note also that although Failblog credits the reader who submitted the video, they do so without a link to either the submitter, or the original source for the video.Political sites join in
Failblog isn’t alone in this practice, although it was the first time I saw it. The trend has spread to political blogs as well, and sites that have started using the practice include TPM and to a lesser extent The Huffington Post. The Huff Post tends to vary between official content providers and its own uploaded content, and we can’t be sure whether they’re ripping video and reuploading it, or some of the video they captured themselves (and there are special mixes as well unique to the site), but TPM’s YouTube channel is full of TPM branded content available elsewhere, including directly from original content providers.
This isn’t an exhaustive list by any stretch, but it’s sites I’ve seen recently, and I’d bet others are doing the same thing as well.
The economics of reposting
The reasoning behind this trend is very simple: numbers, traffic and attention. By reposting this content to their own channels (say on YouTube), sites such as the Failblog build a stronger following through the branding in the videos, and by creating a popular YouTube channel that feeds back to the site. The presumption would hold true for TPM as well: a one stop shop of interesting politics videos, branded, creating a superior destination that drives more traffic and attention.
RedLasso isn’t to blame here, but the trend on political sites to post content uploaded to their own accounts as opposed to grabbing it from other sources seems to have come about in part due to RedLasso no longer being available with an ample selection of clips. The vacuum of content has been replaced by aggressive site specific uploads, particularly where no legal alternative exists. This particularly holds true for the Huffington Post, who switch between their own video and embeds provided legally by content owners such as MSNBC.
The interesting thing about the rise of reposting videos is the copyright risk each site takes on when doing it. With traditional YouTube style embeds, the video is embedded from someone else, so if there is a copyright claim, it goes to the person who uploaded the video originally. By reposting this content on their own accounts, the copyright claim falls to the site itself, either directly or via the video host, so the risk to the site itself increases. Failblog is on shakier ground, because nothing they repost is their own, however the likelihood of that content attracting copyright attention is less due to the nature of the content itself. TPM, The Huffington Post and others face higher exposure to copyright claims as the reuploaded videos are normally exclusively taken from television broadcasts. They do have a fair use defense that may well stand up well in court, but the exposure is exponentially higher than before where many of these sites would have run RedLasso content. It’s really rolling the dice on copyright, and hoping that you’ll always get the result you’re after; worth it perhaps given the benefits of reposting the content, but a higher risk than the alternatives.
I’m torn on this trend. I dislike the idea that some sites are so greedy that they feel the need to rip and reupload content as their own, where as in the past blogs would have shared the love, and simply embedded content from the source. It’s a negative trend that goes against some of the underlying sharing principles that have helped the blogosphere grow.
However, I get the economics, and I understand why sites are doing this. I also couldn’t rule out doing something similar in the future, because the numbers case is that strong in favor of doing so. The main reason why I’m not about to start now, and I’m unlikely to do so in the future isn’t just moral (although the moral case is strong), it’s one of ease of use. It’s not super easy or quick to rip a video, brand it, and reupload it as your own (coupled with the fact that upload speeds in Australia make uploading video slower again), where as it’s always far easier to grab an embed code and run the video that way. I’m a touch lazy, and I’m time poor, so embedding wins over reposting.
Overall, this is a trend that deserves great discussion and attention. It may be another sign of the maturity of the blogosphere, that now we’ve past the peak, and money drives the topsites, that some will forgo sharing for an extra edge.