Ars reported on a new Google-funded survey showing that P2P users buy more music than others, but what struck me as most interesting was the following comment:
But only a small minority of Americans—between four and 15 percent—say it’s reasonable to upload copyrighted content for public consumption, post links to pirated content on Facebook, or sell unauthorized copies of copyrighted materials.
If we’re only talking old-school P2P file-sharing, I wouldn’t be surprised, but to a great number of individuals, accessing and sharing illegally distributed music has shifted from torrents to YouTube. The number of peers I see posting links to unlicensed videos is far higher than 4-15%, and I’m not certain I’m unrepresentative there.
The survey appears at a time when I’ve been thinking about common disclaimers on YouTube: “no copyright intended” and “no copyright infringement intended.” It’s an interesting case of performative speech – nearly magical in an anthropological sense – that I’m still unpacking, but others have taken a stab at it. A few years ago, Mike Masnick at Techdirt said he thought sharing and remixing would be come status quo for younger generations, and as often as that idea is thrown around without numbers, Andy Baio at waxy.org collected links to some revealing forum posts asking why videos were removed despite disclaimers.
Speaking over-broadly, people do not seem to understand copyright law, and I doubt 4-15% understand what it means to “post pirated content on Facebook.” I doubt the average person sees a legal distinction between linking to an official YouTube video, linking to an unofficial video, and linking to a home-video with unlicensed music added. Old-school P2P has become synonymous with piracy to a degree that other forms of infringement are excluded – particularly sharing via social media.
Take a moment to let the craziness to sink in. Not just the misleading y-axis or the short-sighted x, but the discrepancy between the title and the content. Something hugely important is missing from the numbers here.
A few days later, I listened to an episode of the Musician’s Cooler podcast titled Musician’s Roadmap to Facebook and Twitter, which gave tips for finding and following potential fans on Twitter by browsing through a related artist’s Twitter followers to find strangers who meet certain criteria and following them.
When musicians clamored for a new Myspace, I thought they meant an easy way to host photos and music files. I never would’ve guessed they meant an easy way to artificially inflate numbers and clog strangers’ feeds with spam. It’s a shame to see them taking steps toward killing the new networks they’re trying to adopt.
The graphic and the Roadmap forget the most important question about any social network: how are people using it? That people are spending more minutes on Facebook than the rest of the web tells you nothing about what people are doing in those minutes. If they’re using those minutes to exchange private messages, then media companies who “embrace Facebook” over other opportunities will be wasting their time – or worse, will come off as creepy/spammy if they actually find a way to interpose themselves into others’ conversations (like Facebook itself is often criticized for doing).
Likewise, a focus on the quantity of followers leaves out the actual utility of having a Twitter account: the conversation. Using Twitter as a sly way to get people to click your URL is disingenuous. If you didn’t come for the conversation, you have no business trying to expand your network.
I find these guides and tips toward social networking frustrating. Why is it so hard for content creators to engage with others as they choose to be engaged? The word social implies two-way communication. We shouldn’t follow people whose posts we won’t read or with whom we don’t intend to interact.
Have a voice. Be genuine. Create good content. That’s all the advice anyone should need for any social network past, present, or future. You’re not going to reach 1,000 followers overnight, but by the time you do they won’t be the type to disappear overnight.
At musicthinktank.com, Alan Lastufka asks “Is YouTube destroying or saving music?” Go give it a read.
I wanted to call attention to item four.
4) Join, don’t just distribute. I see companies making this mistake all the time on YouTube. YouTube is a community. If you simply treat it as another distribution channel, you’ve already lost. Use the same practices on YouTube that you do on twitter and facebook; answer comments, reply to messages, watch other people’s videos and interact with them, blah blah blah. What starts off as a “marketing plan” will hopefully turn into more.
During the Great Myspace Debates of the last year, this was my number one point: if you’re going to have an account on any social network, how you use it should be dictated by how your audience choses to interact with you. Myspace was clearly failing because the audience interaction was approaching zero even for the artists who clung tenaciously to the service. Artists who were using it solely to host mp3s and to message the few lingering venues had missed the point by a mile.
This is the price of social media. It’s about interaction. It’s about joining. If you have the budget and access to the old channels, one-way distribution is still possible, but look at some of the top artists on major labels: even their success can be partly attributed to their social tendencies. And success here isn’t about finding more fans or followers than their rivals. Personalities like Lady Gaga or Kanye West have without a doubt brought people into the Twitter community, they’ve increased connections and made Twitter stronger for everyone.