Google plans for merger give bloggers the fidgets

On Blogs

October 15, 2006|By Troy McCullough | Troy McCullough,Sun Columnist

In the good old days - say, oh, six months ago - Google was the Internet's benevolent republic, the company that vowed to do no evil. But the search giant's announcement last week of plans to buy YouTube sent shock waves through the online provinces and fears that an occupying empire was emerging.

YouTube's legion of video bloggers in particular appeared uneasy with their new overlords, and what the future held.

Would Google start placing ads at the beginning of videos? Would they start charging a users' fee? Would they tamper with the vibrant - yet fragile - video blogging community that had emerged? Would the copyright lawyers finally descend and force the whole video operation out of business? No one seemed to have any answers, and everyone seemed to be worried about it.

But shortly after the $1.65 billion announcement was made, YouTube's co-founders, Chad Hurley and Steve Chen, released a video on their site attempting to allay fears with their core YouTube audience. With production values on par with a cheap Webcast announcing a weekend party, the video had to be one of the oddest public announcements that the business world has ever seen - yet it was oddly appropriate considering its video blogging audience.

"Thanks to every one of you guys that, um, have been contributing to YouTube," a gleeful Chen said.

"We're going to stay committed to providing the best service to you ... so you can keep having fun on our site," an equally cheerful Hurley added.

Though the video was barely a minute and a half long, Chen and Hurley had a hard time staying on topic, and the last 30 seconds trailed off into jokes and laughter - possibly a side effect of the wealth that Google had just bestowed upon them.

But the point had been made to the YouTube masses: The site's well-regarded founders were welcoming Google as liberators, not conquerors. The tone of the site's video blog posts shifted almost immediately from skepticism to congratulations. The rebellion had been quashed.

But the questions remained.

The biggest being: How is Google going to address YouTube's looming copyright problems? About 100 million video clips are viewed on YouTube each day and about 65,000 new video clips are uploaded daily. The bulk of those clips are by video bloggers - people sitting in front of their Web cameras waxing eloquently (or not) about whatever strikes their fancy. But some of the most-viewed clips on YouTube are clear violations of copyrights: music videos, excerpts from TV shows and movies posted without permission. YouTube quickly removes offending videos when they are flagged, but the sheer volume of videos has made the site hard to police.

With its deep pockets, Google will be a tempting legal target.

"If Google gets nailed one single time for copyright violation, there are going to be more shareholder lawsuits than Doans has pills to go with the pile-on copyright suits that follow," wrote billionaire entrepreneur and outspoken YouTube critic Mark Cuban on his blog last week.

The details of Google's YouTube strategy remain unknown. But YouTube users were clear: "I'll stick around as long as you're still here for free," voiced one blogger.

Copyright discussions can wait for another day.

Rome, after all, wasn't built in a day.

troy.mccullough@baltsun.com

Listen to Troy McCullough's podcasts at baltimoresun.com/onblogs.

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