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in Filmmaking
on Feb 16, 2009

Via Scott Kirsner’s CinemaTech blog comes potentially important news for film and video makers interested in distributing their work online: YouTube is enabling paid downloads.

From Kirsner:

If you want to pull down a high-res, MP4 copy of a video from the site (which will play on an iPod), you can pay to do so. No word on what percentage of the revenue goes to the creator. But the one way to pay for videos is Google Checkout, Google’s own PayPal-like payment system.

YouTube is currently only testing this with select partners. Wired News notes that the files aren’t DRM protected, which will mean that big media companies will likely be leery of the system.

From the YouTube page announcing paid downloads:

We are always looking for ways to make it easier for you to find, watch, and share videos. Many of you have told us that you wanted to take your favorite videos offline. So we’ve started working with a few partners who want their videos shared universally and even enjoyed away from an Internet connection.

Many video creators on YouTube want their work to be seen far and wide. They don’t mind sharing their work, provided that they get the proper credit. Using Creative Commons licenses, we’re giving our partners and community more choices to make that happen. Creative Commons licenses permit people to reuse downloaded content under certain conditions.

We’re also testing an option that gives video owners the ability to permit downloading of their videos from YouTube. Partners could choose to offer their video downloads for free or for a small fee paid through Google Checkout. Partners can set prices and decide which license they want to attach to the downloaded video files (for more info on the types of licenses, take a look here).

Some of you may remember an earlier experiment — Ben Rekhi’s attempt in 2005 to distribute his film Waterborne using Google’s paid download plan. (It wasn’t so profitable for Rekhi). The hope, of course, is that YouTube is a more established platform than Google Video was, and that because of iTunes and the growth of paid downloads that today’s audience is more accustomed to the idea of paying for digital media. The challenge to YouTube’s plan is, um, articulated by two of the first posters on the comments thread to the YouTube blog linked above:

“i don’t need this service because i can download any video from you tube using great real player Lollllllll, hey you peopls also downlaod free version of real player then see the result :)”

“The free downloading option is a great idea. Selective charging for the facility is a retrograde step. It may open the door to unsavoury premium services.”

These comments point to something I really believe: in today’s world, paying for digital media is a choice, not a requirement to view or hear. The “don’t support piracy” argument is just one of many. Others include feeling as if one is part of an artist’s community, micro-patronage, pricing fairness reciprocity, generosity, and feeling that the act of legally “owning” a portable version is more significant than online viewing. The challenge for YouTube will be to develop these values within an audience that is used to watching things for free. A little ways down the page, there are a few more comments that point to a more positive possible outcome.

“I applaud this effort People who point out that there are ways around this fail to understand that this at least allows offers artists to make money in some fashion. There will be some who support the community because its the right thing to do, and that incremental advantage is more important than the people who continue to rip artists work despite this initiative. Col ha cavod YouTube!”

“I think this is great! video producers like myself will now be able to earn some cash, which in turn, will help us make more videos for others to see. It is a win-win situation. I don’t understand why so many are whining about this. It costs me money to create my videos, why not charge a little for them?”

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