Copyright in the Digital Age

While working on my post about Louis CK yesterday, I was looking for video clips to share. And I kept coming across clips from his standup shows that random people had obviously ripped off and uploaded to YouTube.

So I checked his website to see what he says about sharing videos of his shows. And he clearly asks people not to:

We only ask that you do not redistribute or sell the material. Once you download a show, it’s yours to keep forever, and yours to use for any reasonable personal use.

(The clip I shared was shown when Louis CK won Person of the Year at the Webby Awards — I specifically chose it because the awards show uploaded it to their own YouTube channel.)

I discovered something odd while browsing YouTube videos, though. When people decide to upload and redistribute these videos, many seem to think a little disclaimer will make it ok. And the disclaimer looks something like this:

I did not create this nor do I own the rights to it. I am simply uploading this for pure entertainment and potential educational purposes.

What?! So I looked around YouTube for more examples, and I came across this gem:

I do not claim copyright in any form. All credit goes to creators and staff.

Clearly, these people do not have a clue what copyright means. Copyright “grants the creator of an original work exclusive rights to its use and distribution” (Wikipedia). If you don’t hold the copyright, you don’t have the right to copy or distribute it. Yes, even on YouTube. Even for entertainment and education.

And really, I’m not surprised that people are sharing this material. Piracy is a huge issue in the creative world, especially when files are so easy to save and share. And I think arguments can be made for both sides about online sharing and the impact on the creator’s income. But whichever side you fall on, if you choose to upload and share creative works online, you should know what you’re doing — and please, have a little respect for the folks who created that material in the first place.