I’ve noticed that John Dale, University of Warwick has published a Blog posting which contains an embedded video clip from YouTube. The video clip shows Billy Idol dreaming of a white Christmas. I would agree with John when he says “is there something terribly, terribly wrong about this?”. But this posting also caused me to reflect on how we (professionals in the HE sector) should engage with the legal minefield of mashups (I’m assuming this music video is copyrighted material).

I had similar thoughts recently when I read Michael Stephens’ TameThe Web Blog in which he posted an article which contains details of an excellent video clip – a staff development resources which illustrates how busy a public library can be, using a speeded up video of St. Joseph County Public Library (where Michael used to work). The video clip uses “Ray of Life” by Madonna as a sound track. Interestingly Michael’s link to his original posting is now broken, although the clip is still available on YouTube.

The issues these two examples raise for me are:

  • Embedding content from third party Web sites
  • Embedding content for which copyright ownership and permission for reuse is not clear
  • The persistence (in the short term and the longer term) of such data and the integrity of the service which hosts the embedded content (i.e. the Blog posting with the embedded video clip, in this case).
  • The ethics of doing this, in light of the issues given above.
  • The dangers of being over-cautious.

I’m inclined to applaud John and Michael in their risk-taking. It seems to me that the sector has shown in willingness to take similar risks in the past e.g. installing caches, despite the fact that they infringe copyright, and ‘deep-linking’, when the legal implications had been been clarified. To a certain extent, the risk-taking can lead to establishing a new consensus which can help to develop and refine mainstream orthodoxies which nay be needed for the information age. Such experimentation may also lead to new business models being developed with new sets of relationships being forged between copyright owners, service providers, content providers and end users. It has been argued, for example, that mashups (perhaps like the Ray Of Light video clip) can help expose content to new audiences or that fees for use of such content could be paid by the service provider rather than the content author (i.e. as the popularity of the St. Joseph County Public Library video generates traffic to the YouTube’s Web site, a portion of the income received by YouTube on their Web sites from the advertising revenue can be used to pay the royalty fee to Madonna’s record label). End result: popular video mashup produced by St. Joseph County Public Library and viewed by many satisfied users (as can be seen from many of the comments on the YouTube Web site) and additional advertising revenue for YouTube, a portion of which goes to the record label. Benefits for all of the players?

This still leaves open the issue of the long term integrity of mash-up service. I’ll give some thoughts on this in a future posting.