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Guy Goma, YouTube and the BBC

How copyright has to leak

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Column Meejatarts, as my old friend Rupert calls us, will do almost anything for exposure. We're publicity whores. It's how we earn our daily crust.

If you understand this simple truth about the meeja it will help you follow an awful lot about digital rights management which otherwise would be utterly baffling. For example, it will explain why the BBC went to so much trouble to prevent YouTube from re-transmitting copyright material - and also why the BBC has now done a deal with YouTube.

Last Friday, when the BBC deal was released to the world, a Radio 4 news programme "PM" discussed the subject. I was tickled pink, because it turns out (according to the BBC executive being interviewed) that the most popular bit of BBC footage in the last year was an interview on News 24 featuring a nice IT graduate (Guy Goma) who was mistaken for me.

That incident is one the BBC did its best to pretend never happened, and is now exploiting for all it is worth. Why?

Publishing is a business which cannot flourish in secret. It's not a personality defect which forces publishers to expose themselves to public scrutiny. It's not the celeb thing, where people think the world loves to see them smile, and weeps when they are sad..it's simple book-keeping. If no one reads your stuff, you might as well not publish, because no one will pay you to shut up.

Well, that's not quite true. Time was when it was well worth paying people not to write - for your rival publishers, at any rate. If you were unaware of the phrase "exclusive contract" before, believe it now: there are writers who are given so much for words they write, and so much more for not writing for other publishers. There are film stars in the same position. And also musicians. And other creative workers in many spheres.

The BBC, quite simply, does deals which prevent BBC material from appearing on TV sets. That's obviously not the main purpose of the deals - the purpose is to sell the material - but only to people who will pay extra to prevent someone else from broadcasting it. For example, the South African Broadcasting Corporation will pay the BBC a fee to broadcast TV material - but an even bigger fee to prevent rival stations from having that material.

The internet, and YouTube and BitTorrent technology specifically, makes all that impossible.

Talk to anybody who actually understands the future of copyright and you'll discover an awareness that exclusivity is no longer legally enforceable. All you can hope for is to be first.

The dream of "copyright owners" is to have a nice, orderly market in which they call the shots. DVD regions, for example, were set up so that people could start off by releasing their movies in America, and then, when everything was getting nicely automated, they could move their marketing effort into Europe, and then when that was burning warmly, start the fire in Asia.

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