The YouTube cultural clearinghouse

Robert Lloyd in the Los Angeles Times:

Here in the Western world, we live defined by media: We are what we watch, what we listen to. (A few of us are still the papers we read.) And because this identification is so strong and thoroughgoing, one can feel that anything that has ever been recorded or taped or filmed should be available to hear or see, and that there is even something heroic, in a Promethean way, about those who arrange to make this happen. In earlier days, this fire-stealing manifested itself as the bootleg-record industry, whose High Baroque period, marked by expensive and often beautifully designed boxed sets, was cut dead by the Internet, where such fast and efficient file-sharing technologies as bit torrent have created vast networks dedicated to getting the music and pictures of the music out for free.

One vision of the Net maintains that it ought to be controlled and owned and exploited, farmed and ranched and arranged in such a way that nothing moves without the owner (which is not necessarily to say the creator) getting his cut. The other — the Wikipedia, OpenOffice, open-source way of no-business — holds that it is common ground, free and open, a place built and shaped by the people who use it, where sharing is the ultimate good.

Both approaches are manifest in YouTube, which is at once a commercial enterprise, now cutting revenue-sharing deals with major labels to legally show their videos, and a tool for moving around other people’s intellectual property.

More here.