Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The Person of the Year Just Violated Your Copyright

At the height of Napster’s popularity, the music press would never write a remotely nice word about the download site. However, recent articles on YouTube have been much more ambivalent, if not downright positive. For instance, a sidebar to Jazz Times December story on jazz artists on myspace asks the featured artists to recommend their favorite clips available on YouTube. While acknowledging possible copyright issues, Christopher Porter writes: “But for now, is a fantastic one-stop shopping source for jazz clips.” So don’t sweat the artists’ rights—go ahead and browse for cool jazz clips.

Gil Erskine expresses similar sentiments in “YouTube—Decades of Jazz on the Small Screen,” published in the December IAJRC Journal. He picks ten of the best jazz films available on the site, including Gjon Mili’s classic short film “Jammin’ the Blues,” (here for now) featuring artists like Lester Young and Illinois Jacquet, as well as Louis Armstrong performances from a 1933 Danish film (“Dinah” and “I Cover the Waterfront”). He seems to dismiss copyright claims as well, writing: “there is also alarm that material will be deleted! I have already noticed that clips of corporate-obvious stars as Glenn Miller, Louis Armstrong, and Billie Holiday have been withdrawn.”

When Napster let people download audio files for free, it was condemned as theft. When YouTube provides free video clips, it is considered a public service. Why the double-standard? YouTube certainly benefits from its image as an instrument of political activism. Indeed films like “Flight Club” are uploaded in the hopes that people will view them and tell their friends. Until Comedy Central recently started asserting their rights, YouTube had been a clearing house of Jon Stewart’s Pres. Bush rants. Those who did so, qualified as one of several million of my fellow Time “Persons of the Year,” being online content providers. (Talk about lame, Time essentially makes no distinction between LGF’s Charles Johnson, the scourge of Reuter’s phony photography, and someone posting an Amazon review of Porky’s II on DVD.)

YouTube can certainly be an effective avenue for promotion, but artists, or their heirs, have a right to control their copyrighted work, whether in video or audio form. After all, it affects their livelihood. They deserve to be compensated for their work, so be understanding if the selection of jazz clips on YouTube thins out dramatically.