Spexious

Observations and arguments.

Archive for July, 2006

Questioning the YouTube ToS panic

On the Wired blog yesterday there appeared a post with the alarmist headline “YouTube’s ‘New’ Terms Still Fleece Musicians”. It highlights the newest YouTube terms of service, which read, in part:

…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… in any media formats and through any media channels.

The writer (Eliot Van Buskirk) points out, quite rightly, that YouTube could take your video (or, for example, a band’s song that appears in a video) and sell it on a DVD or CD, or broadcast it on a television show, or sell it to an ad agency, without paying you a nickel. The license is transferable, meaning they could pass it along to another entity (e.g. a television production company), and it would be retained by any entity that bought up YouTube.

The story was picked up by BoingBoing, which has a lot more readers than the Wired music blog, so there are going to be a lot more people across the internets reacting negatively to what appears to me a misreading and mischaracterization of the terms of service text.

Van Buskirk chooses to overlook two sections of this paragraph in the terms of service that seem awfully pertinent. The first is in boldface:

For clarity, you retain all of your ownership rights in your User Submissions.

and the second, more important part:

The foregoing license granted by you terminates once you remove or delete a User Submission from the YouTube Website.

Van Buskirk makes this point in the comments to his post that the term “ownership” begins to lose its meaning once you have granted a royalty-free license as broad as the one YouTube claims, and I agree with him on this. But the point about the User’s ability to terminate the license by removing the work from the website here is critical.

So let’s take Van Buskirk’s scenario in which YouTube sells your song to an ad agency looking for “edgy” work in its new commercial. (This of course would have to be an ad agency that doesn’t belong to one of the multinational marketing conglomerates, who are completely in bed with the music publishing industry. The agency would also want to overlook the shitty transcoding quality of the audio, but let’s pretend there is such an agency.) YouTube gets money, you don’t. The commercial airs, you cry foul. You remove the video from YouTube. The license has now been terminated. If the ad agency’s media company allows the ad to run again on any station, in any market, you can sue them for all the money you could want, far more than you would have been paid had the ad agency only come to you directly. Which money of course the ad agency would turn around and sue YouTube for. And then of course YouTube will only then ask you to produce all the written releases you have from everyone in your video (as required in the same section of the Terms of Service), and so then all your friends you used as extras can sue you for the money you won in your lawsuit.

Oh, I’m sure YouTube can’t WAIT to start monetizing your content.

Look, I understand the fear, I just don’t buy it.

The license is there so they have permission to transcode your work (creating a derivative), play it online (display/perform), or elsewhere if they can figure out how to convert to mobile phones or tvs. The language is overly broad to cover their asses, but that’s what corporate lawyers do.

If there is any real money to be made off your work by YouTube or its partner corporations, they will come to you directly and get you to sign a new, far more specific contract that will also cheat you out of money that you so rightly deserve.

Tags: YouTube

Trying out the Carbon Calculator

So I went to the Carbon Calculator at the website of An Inconvenient Truth, to see an estimate of the tons of carbon dioxide my lifestyle outputs each year into the global atmosphere. Once calculated, there are links to buy carbon offsets, through a single affiliated company, NativeEnergy, which develops wind turbines and other renewable, clean energy projects on tribal reservation lands. “Buying offsets” means basically subsidizing NativeEnergy projects to create an equivalent amount of energy that someone somewhere can use, ostensibly decreasing enough of their carbon dioxide production to offset my own.

(I understand that politically, environmentally, and emotionally there is a difference between exploiting tribal lands for sustainable clean energy and exploiting tribal lands for their mineral and fossil fuel resources–or their exemption from state gaming regulations–but rationally and from a business perspective the distinction seems a bit meaningless. Although I suppose revenue and wage earning potential must precede home-grown business innovation, by a generation or two at least.)

My issue, however, is with the calculator form itself.
Sure, it’s clean-looking and AJAXy, with a dynamically updated total on top.

But while there is a question having to do with the number of people living in the household, there is only one place to input information about a car. Is it inappropriate to suggest that among the demographic of people most likely to visit the site in the first place, two cars would be commonplace? How hard would it have been to add a second car to the form input, in order to generate an estimation for the entire household’s output?

The rest of the form appears to be aimed at an aggregate household tally (number of residents, average monthly electric/gas/heating oil bills). But not the car info. The form designer is assuming that my wife will log into the calculator herself, and fill out only her car and air travel information, pretending that her house has no additional residents and no electric or gas usage. (I note that reducing the number of listed residents per household increases the total impact, rather than decreases it.)

That seems weak.

My total, minus my wife’s car: 18000 pounds/year. Nine metric tons.

Carbon offsets via NativeEnergy cost me a mere $12 per ton (that seems freakishly low to me), so that’s $108 that I’m asked to pay to expiate my carbon sins.

Substituting a 2006 Civic Hybrid for my 1997 Honda Civic while maintaining my yearly 25,000 miles of driving nets me savings of 2 tons/year. That still places me at an average consumption level. I can cut out my annual flight to Minnesota to visit the in-laws and conserve electricity, but neither of those moves the needle very much.

Looks like I need to move carpooling higher on the agenda.

Or get another job.

iPhoto Smart Albums: Sorting Movies

Movies captured with my digital still camera are mixed in with thousands of photos in my iPhoto Library. Smart albums help me keep track of them.

Movies: All
This one’s pretty simple to create. Set the criteria:

Keyword > contains > Movie

Since iPhoto automatically tags every imported movie with the keyword “Movie”, this one is requires no additional work to maintain. All your movies can be found in this album, in iPhoto or in the iMovie media browser. Of course, to narrow the Library to just movies, one can also click the “Movie” keyword button in the main Library view.

Movies: Already Used
An album of all the movies you’ve previously used in video projects. For this you need to create a custom keyword. I use “MBF” (Matchbook Films). Keywords are created under iPhoto > Preferences, but applied using Photos > Get Info.

Keyword > contains > [your custom keyword]

This album is only as useful when you take the time to tag each relevant clip with the keyword. Even more useful than this album, however, is its opposite.

Movies: Not Used
This smart album contains all videos in your library you haven’t used in a project (or that you just haven’t tagged with your custom keyword). In this album you can choose clips you’d like to use for your next project, delete clips you’ll never use, or tag videos you forgot to tag previously.

Match ALL of the following conditions:
Keyword > contains > Movie
Keyword > does not contain > [your custom keyword]

As this album begins to get more and more crowded (as you shoot more and more videos), you may find yourself wanting to narrow this to a selection of videos you think you might use some day in a project.

Movies: To Use
If you’re not using it already, you may wish to employ iPhoto’s check mark keyword: . (Otherwise you would need to create another custom keyword.) Then simply apply this keyword to any movies you wish to remember for later.

Match ALL of the following conditions:
Keyword > contains > Movie
Keyword > contains >
Keyword > does not contain > [your custom keyword]

The third criteria is there so that you don’t necessarily have to remove the check mark in order for the movie to roll out of this smart album. You merely have to apply your custom keyword to indicate you’ve used the clip already.

Any questions?

iTunes: From 1 to 5 stars

Took me a while to settle into an iTunes rating system that worked for me, especially since for a while the main iTunes Library (and therefore the rating system) was shared by the couple. But here’s what I’ve gotten to:

***** (5 stars)
All-time favorite. Happy to hear in almost any context, at almost any time of day. Likely to put me in a good mood, if I’m not. Very few songs get the 5-star rating.

**** (4 stars)
Favorite, easily accessible to others. A track I’d include on a mixtape, or have playing on the stereo at a party.

*** (3 stars)
I like this song, and am happy to have it in my library.

** (2 stars)
Don’t so much like this song, but I keep it around because I don’t want to break up an album. Or because it works on a specific playlist (e.g. Human League “Fascination”, fine for a massive 80s mix, don’t care for it in other contexts).

* (1 star)
Delete this song at the earliest opportunity.

The decision of a married/cohabitating couple to share an iTunes library is recommended only for those actively participating in couples therapy. It helps if there is some Venn diagram crossover in tastes, but with the creative application of smart playlists and metadata, a motivated couple (or one person within the couple) can find ways to make it work.

10 items of IKEA furniture I have assembled

(Ranked in ascending order of difficulty.)

10. LÄTT Children’s Table & Chairs
9. MAMMUT Children’s Table & Stool
8. FLÄRKE Computer Unit
7. EXPEDIT Bookcase
6. MARKÖR Bookcase
5. HEMNES Bedside Table
4. MARKÖR Coffee Table
3. ALVE Secretary Desk
2. MARKÖR TV Cabinet
1. BJURSTA Sideboard (currently in progress)

iPhoto Does Video

Last week I participated in a “Meet the Vloggers” theater presentation at the Apple Store in San Francisco. As part of my five minutes I introduced the idea of using iPhoto Smart Albums as a cataloguing tool in an iPhoto-to-iMovie workflow.

iPhoto’s role in importing and cataloguing video is barely mentioned in the section of Apple’s website dedicated to iPhoto, and absent altogether from its iLife multimedia tutorials. Granted, there are only so many features one can highlight, and movie importing is last year’s news (iLife ’05).

Also, the iMovie story since iLife ’05 has been all about HD(V), so it’s understandable that little emphasis would be placed on 15 frame-per-second videos shot at QVGA resolution (320 x 240).

But for Mac-using videobloggers capturing footage on digital “still” cameras, iPhoto has become indispensable (especially when you stop to consider you have no original tapes to go back to), despite some nagging UI annoyances.

Slow to Adapt

As late as iLife ’04, iPhoto did not even recognize the MPEG4 video recordings on digital cameras. (Of course, when it launched, few of the cameras were recording videos with sound.) Once the camera was connected to the computer, one had to manually dig through the folder hierarchies to find the .avi files (which itself required knowing that .avi files were what you were looking for to begin with). You could then place the files… somewhere on your hard drive, watch them in the QuickTime Player, and even use the Import command in iMovie to add them to an iMovie project.

iPhoto thumbnailIn iLife ’05, iPhoto finally imported the videos off of digital cameras, along with photos. An overlay at the bottom of the thumbnail made it easy to pick out videos from within the Library view, and indicated the length of the clip in minutes and seconds. Most brilliantly of all, iMovie automatically applied the keyword “Movie” to all movies it imported, whether imported directly from the camera or added manually to the Library. Keywords, ratings, and comments could all be applied to movies, making it easy to find, for example, the best movies taken at one of the kids’ birthday parties. (As long as the proper metadata has been applied.)

But you still couldn’t watch movies from within iPhoto (double-clicking on a movie launched the QuickTime Player application.) And there was no simple way to get the movies into iMovie. The Photos pane in iMovie gave you access to the iPhoto library, but AVIs did not appear within the window. So once again you had to use iMovie’s Import command, which required you know where the .avi file was located within the iPhoto library (which required knowing the date the movie was shot). If you had shot several movies on a single day, you also needed to write down the filename of the AVI, to ensure you selected the right one. (Ok, so now I gather you could have just dragged and dropped the clips from iPhoto to iMovie. That would have saved me some time.)

That last obstacle was lifted with the release of iLife ’06. Now within iMovie’s Media Browser, access to iPhoto’s Library now includes access to its movies. Of course, iPhoto still doesn’t know how to play the videos it catalogs, so once again it has to launch QuickTime Player.

(With video recording pretty much standard these days on all digital cameras, and the trend towards hybrid still/video cameras like the Sanyo Xacti, this seems like a glaring omission. But then I remember that the iPhoto team basically had to rewrite the application from the ground up, to raise the ceiling on assets from 25,000 photos to 250,000 photos, so it’s perhaps understandable they left some key features out.)

Wishes for iLife ’07 and Beyond

First and foremost, I’d want to view movies within the iPhoto application, with standard QuickTime/iMovie playback buttons. A full-screen mode for viewing wouldn’t be required, but it would align well with the new full screen edit mode for photos.

Second, I’d like some basic trimming tools. I can already trim the heads and tails off my videos while they’re still inside my camera, why can’t I in iPhoto? This function is basically parallel to the photo “Crop” tool. I expect the main issue here would be that once the video is cropped, does it save over the original file, or is a new file created? (Currently when photos are edited, the original remains untouched and a duplicate file is built.) Saving over the original file would require keeping it as an .AVI–and I’ve had trouble with QuickTime and .AVIs in the past. Creating a duplicate could get pretty slow, especially if there was pressure from a particular product team or another to encode the file in H.264.

Third, I’d like the ability to assemble video playlists–akin to a video slideshow. I found a terrific app called Movie Gallery that did just that.* Let me play several clips in a row without having to click anything, and let me do it in full screen mode. With the Core Video underlayer, adding transitions between movies in a playlist should be as easy to include as transitions in a slideshow. This would allow people to show a polished collection of their (trimmed) movies in a highlight reel, without having to think of themselves as having done any video editing.

Bonus features (perhaps for future releases) could be to send a playlist/collection of movies to iMovie or iDVD. Or to export/compile a playlist of movies into a single quicktime movie. But let’s start with being able to play the movies within iPhoto. Because: come on.

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*Sort of. Except that you can only sort in ascending/descending order along a particular vector of data–title, size, date added, etc. You can’t actually arrange movies in an order of your choosing. It’s a gorgeous application, mixing low res 320×240 clips and full resolution DV without a stutter (good luck with that, iTunes). So other than the fact that the app is basically useless, I’d recommend it highly (the programmer says manual ordering will be built into v2.0).

Creative Crossover Technologies

A friend of mine once posited that unrestricted access to a single piece of technology can mark a creative crossing over of sorts. Once the technology is moved into the artist’s home/domestic space, the exercise of creation can be detached from structured, preplanned time (e.g. at a rental facility) and adapt itself to the natural rhythms of exploration, discovery, revision, frustration, disappointment, and repetition.

For some people this could be an easel in a sunlit room. A potter’s wheel. A darkroom. For her, working in photoshop on a computer, the key crossover technology was a scanner, which previously she had used only after hours at her freelance workplace.

“Once I had a scanner at home,” she told me, “I became an artist.”

I’ve brought three of these crossover technologies into my home.

Once I had a laser printer, I became a designer.
Once I had a banjo, I became a musician.

In 1999 I bought a $1400 DV camera, a new PowerMac, and the $1000 Final Cut Pro version 1.0, thinking this new system would be what helped me actualize my filmmaking potential. But I got sidetracked and ultimately demoralized by the website I built to showcase the work, and gave up after eighteen months or so.

Once I found videoblogging, I became a filmmaker again.

What have been your crossover technologies?