Two Simple Facts about Technology and Piracy : iTunes Vs. YouTube

Fact number one.

Unlike Google’s YouTube, Apple’s Itunes Store does not have a piracy problem, nor does it have an unmanageable issue with DMCA notices. This is often explained that this is because Apple does not allow user generated content from just anyone, therefore there is a barrier to entry that prevents such issues. But this is simply just not true, anyone can upload an album of music to Itunes using any one of the third party aggregation services such as Tunecore or CDbaby. And yet, there are not (as far as we know) hundreds or thousands of DMCA notices and content take downs on Itunes per day, as there are on YouTube. So why is this? In a word, intent.

If Apple, Spotify, Amazon and virtually every other legal and licensed distributor of digital music can put into place, the checks and balances that are capable of managing these rights effectively why is it so hard for Google to do the same YouTube? Think about it.

Fact number two.

YouTube can effectively filter content if it wants to. Since day one, we have never, ever seen any live porn on YouTube. Not a single live link to porn, ever. In debates in various online forums we have often proposed the challenge to anyone to present an active live link to full fledged porn on YouTube. It has NEVER happened. No one has EVER been able to present a live link to an active porn video on YouTube in the six plus years we and our friends have presented the challenge. Talk about a crowd sourcing FAIL.

What these two facts reveal is that rights management online, the protection of copyrights and the enforcement of Intellectual Property require nothing more than the intent and will to do so. But don’t take our word for it, listen to Google’s own Chief Economist Hal A Varian from his book “Information Rules” where he describes “Bitlegging.”

“Bitlegging” can’t be ignored: there’s no doubt that it can be a significant drag on profits.

Bitleggers have the same problem that any other sellers of contraband material have: they have to pet potential customers know how to find them. But if they advertise their location to potential customers, they also advertise their location to law enforcement authorities. In the contraband business it pays to advertise… but not too much.

This puts a natural limit on the size of for-profit illegal activities: the bigger they get, the more likely they are to get caught. Digital piracy can’t be eliminated, any more than any other kind of illegal activity, but it can be kept under control. All that is required is the political will to enforce intellectual property rights.

So Apple, Amazon, Spotify (and hundreds of others) can effectively manage digital distribution without triggering millions of DMCA notices. YouTube can effectively filter porn, and yet the internet is not broken as best as we can tell.

Maybe, just maybe this isn’t so complicated after all. That is unless one has a specific intent and motive from which they perhaps profit from the mass scale aiding of commercial level infringement.

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13 thoughts on “Two Simple Facts about Technology and Piracy : iTunes Vs. YouTube

  1. I’m sorry, but “fact 1″ does not make sense at all. iTunes, even through Tunecore and CDbaby, does not allow anonymous uploading of UGC, and does not receive over 72 hours of music every minute for someone to filter. Comparing a music store to a UGC site is comparing apples and oranges: sure, they have some similarities, but in the end they’re quite different.

    • Again, even with a UGC site like YouTube getting 72 hours of content uploaded every minute (or whatever the stat is) there is NEVER, EVER a live link to actual porn. This fact alone proves that 1) better rights management is possible, 2) filtering works and 3) it won’t break the internet.

      • The porn section was “fact 2″, not “fact 1″. My point with regards to “fact 1″ remains.

        As for porn (fact 2): YouTube relies on its communitiy to flag porn so that it can remove it. It doesn’t have automatic filtering in place to discover porn. As soon as you can get the community to flag copyright violations, perhaps YouTube could do something with it, but unfortunately the community seems to enjoy copyright violations, so I doubt you’ll succeed.

      • It appears you’ve missed this story from buzzfeed:

        Tech Confessional: The Googler Who Looked At The Worst Of The Internet
        http://www.buzzfeed.com/reyhan/tech-confessional-the-googler-who-looks-at-the-wo

        “One of the most shocking parts of my job was working on porn issues. Child porn is the biggest thing for internet companies. By law you have to take it down in 24 hours upon notice and report it to federal authorities.”

        Like we’ve said, this is just simply about intent not capability, pure and simple.

  2. There is porn on YouTube, you just have to know how to look for it. I’ve never seen hardcore porn live on YouTube for more than a minute but there’s plenty of softcore stuff. It mostly just slips through the net due to obscurity and there’s a fairly tightly knit network of users who upload and comment amongst themselves.

    Apple takes a different stance – and it’s one borne out of concern for preserving the calibre of their content. They take a totalitarian, no-appeals based approach to their walled garden, the classic benevolent dictator approach. Sure, anyone can upload an album to iTunes (and if it passes muster with regards to artwork, audio quality and metadata integrity) it’ll probably go live… Oh, unless it’s old Elvis Presley or Frank Sinatra Public Domain repertoire, which they simply refuse to accept even though it’s perfectly legal for anyone to rerelease PD material (the whispers are that this approach will be progressively applied to existing PD repertoire on iTunes too).

    Whilst this behaviour’s in breach of EU and UK competition law, since Apple has more money than most of our countries’ national banks apparently they can do whatever they like.

    There is a fairly slickly run legal department at Apple – there’s plenty of takedown notices generated every day, you just don’t hear about them. Many of these will be catalogue disputes for whatever reason (some valid, some not). From what I’ve seen, Apple’s policy is to have human beings from Legal initiate contact between account holders and mediate a resolution between them whenever possible.

    On the upload side of things, they have what must be a small army of people constantly reviewing new uploads in their content ‘polishing’ team. Humans will respond if an upload is grossly incorrect or contains corrupt audio (for example); however once a continuous threshold of quality’s reached a content provider can upload anything and material is reviewed retrospectively. Annoyingly though Apple suffers from a bout of revisionist history memory — as they update their Style Guide, they then work through older catalogue and apply it seemingly at random. This can result in ‘vintage’ iTunes releases (dating back to the first 18 months of its existence) all of a sudden having their artwork rejected for some punitive or insignificant reason; you can argue the toss with them but ultimately you have to capitulate even if you’ve done nothing wrong according to the rules as defined originally.

    However the flip to this is that you have a constant arbiter of quality, someone with a vested interest overseeing a (fairly) consistent standard. And if you think this sounds bad, the division which handles assessment and verification of Classical music releases is even more draconian! (which pleases me greatly)

    I’ve heard some horror stories about CDBaby’s dodgy selling practices from artists who’ve used them. Similarly, I’ve seen infringing material on some of the other digital services (and I’ve also been told stories by artists whose licensed catalogue has been releases or rereleased without their permission by labels – they’ve been unable to get a response from the label (obviously) and they haven’t been able to find a way to notify the legal department directly. This is exacerbated by the ‘general’ Customer Relations teams at Apple having no link, no ability and no desire to pass through complex queries of this nature to the relevant department. You either have to know someone knowledgeable or have remarkably good luck. I helped an established musician who was having a problem similar to this recently – he was commeneting angrily about the situation on his Twitter account (which I saw) and emailed him to offer my help, which I did, and the problem was eventually resolved. He would have never been able to reach a resolution without my asisstance though and had I not had direct email contact with the relevant team at Apple he would have never been listened to.

    No system is perfect…

    Whilst you don’t have any of this with Google, they market themselves (and have always have) as a ‘raw pipe’ of data. YouTube conflicts with this portrayal but it’s policed in a ‘relaxed’ fashion. It’s not in their interest to start curating content any more than legally required, but they are somewhat socially responsible by policing the worst of things like porn. However in the past 6-12 months there’s been an increasing amount of full albums and full motion pictures being uploaded to YT as upload caps are lifted for all users. What frustrates me, as someone who wants to work within the copyright system and point out wilfully infringing material, is that there’s no appropriate option for flagging a video as potentially infringing. They strictly interpret the DMCA as requiring only the copyright holder to notify them of an infringement. If you as a regular peon “abuse” the notification process, you can be subject to summary ejection from your account (or something similarly painful like electrodes to the testicles).

    The only caveat to this is that I am yet to see any advertising on the videos which are obviously copyright infringements, so whilst they are still profiting from the fact that they’re keeping users on the site, they can’t be shown to be profiting from individual infringing uploads. Monetisation requests are still peer reviewed by a human at some point prior to or during a video’s existence on the platform, and the process is very final: I’ve had one of my perfectly legitimate, appropriate and money-earning uploads inexplicably disabled for monetisation, with no reason given and no chance for appeal).

    • Your comment as follows:

      “Oh, unless it’s old Elvis Presley or Frank Sinatra Public Domain repertoire, which they simply refuse to accept even though it’s perfectly legal for anyone to rerelease PD material.”

      is false and ridiculous. Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra recordings are NOT in the public domain: neither the songs, nor the recordings. Considering you invested so much time to write such a lengthy response to this story, you didn’t spend one minute researching your facts.

      The concept of Public Domain is sadly misunderstood by many of the public at large because of silly posts like yours. One of the sad truths about the Internet is that a large number of misinformed ingoramuses can overpower and outshout (by virtue of their sheer numbers) the voices of those who are educated and responsible enough to know and tell the truth.

      In the case of digital or digitized intellectual property, the misinformed ingoramuses are making the public play right into the hands of rich and powerful companies who benefit from the theft of this intellectual property from the legitimate owners.

  3. I would have to say that the number of things being uploaded to YouTube on a daily basis, compared to the other services you mentioned, is probably 100 or even 1000 fold. In addition, those other services have hoops to jump through, usually involving paperwork or paying a third party, to get said content uploaded. That being said, the work involved in sifting through content and trying to figure out who owns copyright to what, well, that would effectively make YouTube useless in regards to the manpower that would be needed to ve put behind the service – essentially EVERYTHING would have to be reviewed and nothing would ever get approved.

    Except for porn. That’s the one rule they have and must probably do a lot to make sure it gets enforced.

    Comparing these services is really a dumb argument in my opinion, as they are completely different in how they operate both from a user and on the approval and even business model side. One is user generated – iTunes is not, even though one can (through a strict approval process) sell their files there.

    • We’ve already explained this in the post above, and you’ve already agreed that they can do filter porn. It’s just that simple. There is no difference other than the will to enforce the law and manage the rights correctly. Sorry.

  4. Maybe the iTunes store doesn’t have a piracy problem, but the app store sure does. I found a Chinese app, paid app mind you, called DuoMi that basically offers anyone who purchases it unlimited access to a vast library of pirated music which they can stream or download for this one-time fee. 2 months after filing a complaint, I have yet to see the situation resolved, and Aple has taken zero action to investigate whether this app is trading in pirated material or not, despite being notified of such.

    I urge any musicians/labels reading this to download the app and search for your own material — trust me, it’s there — and star bombarding the App Store with claims. App is in Chinese but pretty easy to figure out, and certainly usable by anyone who knows what it’s for, regardless of language.

    • To be clear, and we may be misunderstanding you – when we say Itunes does not have a piracy problem we mean there are not 10 different uploads of say “Dark Side Of The Moon” by Pink Floyd from different parties. There is one, the correct one, from EMI as it should be. And tomorrow, there will not be 5 more different versions from people like “dani2755″ who lives in Kansas.

  5. It is really easy….if they can track views they can track anything. It’s math. Anyone who has ever owned a website knows they can track any and all action on it. They should change before they get pinched.

  6. The only time I recall there being a porn problem on YT (though not actually seeing any porn, mind) was when the lads from 4chan did an “event” where the point was to spam YT with porn, a couple of years back.

    The offending videos were removed expeditiously, though the sheer volume made it possible for some to stay live longer than usual, I am told.

    On a related note, I have recently noticed a trend where infringing uploaders are actually telling world+dog (and by extension – YouTube) that they are infringing, in the video description. Typically, the notice goes something like “I don’t own the rights to this work” (possibly some misguided interpretation of Fair Use that wouldn’t stand up in court).

    I had joked previously that I could easily knock out a quick script to block the posting of such videos, possibly sending a “Then what are you uploading this video for, you ninny?” (or alternatively: “Fair Use don’t work like that.”) message to the uploader.

    I mean, seriously, it’s not like YouTube can claim they don’t know which videos are infringing. The very uploaders are telling them so.

    • You’re correct; YouTube could probably create a filter that would search for such text. What would they accomplish with that? Probably the only thing that would happen is that people don’t write down such text anymore when they upload such material to YouTube. It wouldn’t actually do anything to prevent the infringement.

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