kNOw Future Inc.

law, technology and cinema, washed down with wine

Freeing Video

As I’ll be attending a plenary meeting of ngvision tomorrow, it’s an appropriate moment for a few comments on the subject, both historically and technically. Whilst innovative projects have been around on the web since 2001, this year has been the sea-change due to the emergence of youtube, which has massified instant video consumption. The anthropological change brought about by youtube obliges a rethink on the part of everyone in the field.

New Global Vision was born in Italy following the demonstrations against the G8 in Genoa during the summer of 2001. In their aftermath there was tremendous demand for video-documentation of the events, in which many people were savagely attacked by the police and traumatised. The response to this demand came from some people involved ina greassroots communication project called the European Counterinformation Network (ECN), who edited a miscellany of the materials available to them and then compressed them using Divx for distribution via FTP and edonkey. Encountering a massive reponse to this initiative, the project began to formalise and became New Global Vision, a platform for video distribution initially based on a ring of FTP servers.

In spring of 2003 another project was born, v2v.cc with the aim of not only sharing completed works, but also socializing materials and developing a set of standards for interoperability and the use of non-poprietary codecs which would make them useful and recyclable. V2V has never reached the scale of ngvision but has made important technical contributions especially as regards pushing the use of Ogg Theora, and one of its coders developed a transcoder to convert mpeg to theora.

1. Prior to youtube the most commonly used codecs for video were the various implementations of mp4, principally divx. These are all proprietary formats (microsoft own key patents, others are the property of the mpeg4 consortium. Xvid was the most open iteration of this model, but ogg theora (built on the ON2’s vp3 video codec and ogg vorbis for audio) was the first fully non-proprietary option. Today the major format is Flash, which is proprietary and mkuch more difficult to appropriate. Its advantage lies in its optimisation for on demand content, and its rise to prominence is a setback if the strategic goal is the creation of a media environment composed of elements/tools accessible universally be it for production or consumption.

2. Youtube’s access to venture capital funding allowed them to spend money immediately to acquire market share by providing a resource before finding a revenue model. Previously design questions had to take into account the financial sustainability of the system which meant either aggregating individual users resources (the p2p approach) or installing servers where the opportunity arose to piggyback on a resource already paid for by others (universities, workplaces). The former approach continues to gestate within both the ed2k and bit torrent protocols, but is almost entirely dedicated to the distribution of materials with the consent and, more importantly, the participation of the producer. Youtube’s advantage derived from the possibility to incur short term losses with the prospect of long recoupment through advertising (and ultimately also through the licensing of rights).

3. The growing popularity of direct download mechanisms represents a massive weakening of the communtiy aspect which is now limited to the concept of a shared space of consumption and activity within a network effects context, and youtube’s community guidelines are a document to the evacuation and emaciation of the concept. The potential for the community to be the actual provider of the resource at all levels (material, delivery infrastructure and feedback) and thus to have the possibility of self-government has been suppressed, notwithstanding the fact that in real terms technological advance and bandwidth roll-out increasingly favours this possibility. Today there are countries where upload sppeds of 10MB are commonplace. Indeed it is exactly this cheapening of broadband which is driving the tendency towards direct download, which is also evident in the pornworld via the use of rapidshare, megaupload etc. for non-flash based formats.

4. For years I have been trying to persuadecultural producers to make their work available in a freely accessible way on the web. My experience has been that the basic response is resistance, inarticulate but determined. Usually this takes the form of a worry that other people will unjustly exploit their efforts and that they will get nothing in return. Attempts to explain the indirect benefits that flow from visibility and others use of their works have failed to convince. Suddenly, with the media-hype surrounding myspace and youtube these objections have vanished. The irony is that that the publicity has been so intoxicating that users are now submitting themselves to terms and conditions which more community-oriented sites would neveer have sought to impose. Take the following from YouTube’s terms and conditions:

For clarity, you retain all of your ownership rights in your User Submissions. However, by submitting the User Submissions to YouTube, you hereby grant YouTube a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, sublicenseable and transferable license to use, reproduce, distribute, prepare derivative works of, display, and perform the User Submissions in connection with the YouTube Website and YouTube’s (and its successor’s) business, including without limitation for promoting and redistributing part or all of the YouTube Website (and derivative works thereof) in any media formats and through any media channels. You also hereby grant each user of the YouTube Website a non-exclusive license to access your User Submissions through the Website, and to use, reproduce, distribute, prepare derivative works of, display and perform such User Submissions as permitted through the functionality of the Website and under these Terms of Service. The foregoing license granted by you terminates once you remove or delete a User Submission from the YouTube Website.”

Likewise with regard to myspace:

By displaying or publishing (“posting”) any Content on or through the MySpace Services, you hereby grant to MySpace.com a limited license to use, modify, publicly perform, publicly display, reproduce, and distribute such Content solely on and through the MySpace Services.
Without this license, MySpace.com would be unable to provide the MySpace Services. For example, without the right to modify Member Content, MySpace.com would not be able to digitally compress music files that Members submit or otherwise format Content to satisfy technical requirements, and without the right to publicly perform Member Content, MySpace.com could not allow Users to listen to music posted by Members. The license you grant to MySpace.com is non-exclusive (meaning you are free to license your Content to anyone else in addition to MySpace.com), fully-paid and royalty-free (meaning that MySpace.com is not required to pay you for the use on the MySpace Services of the Content that you post), sublicensable (so that MySpace.com is able to use its affiliates and subcontractors such as Internet content delivery networks to provide the MySpace Services), and worldwide (because the Internet and the MySpace Services are global in reach). This license will terminate at the time you remove your Content from the MySpace Services. “

December 7, 2006 - Posted by | communication, p2p, social cooperation

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