The day after I wrote it up in TidBITS (see “Early Help Desk Video,” 2007-02-19), ZrednaZ, the user who posted the Early Help Desk Video with English subtitles removed the video, generating a flurry of squawks from TidBITS readers who wanted to see it. Some additional searching on YouTube turned up a handful of identical videos, all with Danish but not English subtitles. Then I noticed that one of the people leaving comments had found another copy with English subtitles, and shortly afterwards, ZrednaZ reposted the video, with a few additional seconds at the end (unfortunately, the reposted video is much darker than the other copies, though it has better subtitles).
Here’s what happened. The original video aired in 2001 on a show called “Oystein og meg” (“Oystein & I”) from the Norwegian television network, NRK, but it seems to have shown up on YouTube only recently. Another YouTube user recently posted a short clip from NRK News (with English subtitles added) that discusses the situation. It turns out that the version uploaded to YouTube became one of the most viewed videos on YouTube, generating about a million views. The news report goes on to say that it’s illegal to upload NRK content and that NRK’s lawyers are now investigating the case. Upon hearing about the NRK lawyers, ZrednaZ got cold feet and pulled the video from YouTube, but after numerous requests and seeing the many other copies elsewhere on YouTube, reposted it.
It will be instructive to see how NRK’s lawyers react. Yes, the reposts on YouTube were done without permission. But it’s unclear who, if anyone, has been harmed. The work was done 6 years ago, and presumably entertained many Norwegians at the time, but my bet is that it has essentially been ignored ever since, neither making money for NRK nor advancing the careers of the creators. Now, thanks to YouTube and the viral nature of humor on the Internet, it’s at least bringing the creators some attention. One of them is quoted as saying, “This is probably the closest we are getting to a world wide launch, and we are very pleased so far.” The fact that NRK wasn’t prepared to turn that attention into revenue or something constructive is a missed opportunity, but not a reason to employ heavy-handed legal tactics. The lesson is that you never know when or where lightning will strike, but if you can be ready for it or move sufficiently quickly, you just may be able to animate your very own Frankenstein with all that power.
Although I was a touch worried, I don’t think we were responsible for the video coming to the attention of the NRK’s lawyers. I heard about the video clip on 13-Feb-07 from a friend whose librarian sister-in-law sent it to her, and I posted the story to ExtraBITS on that day. The video had been making the rounds in the librarian community, apparently, and on 14-Feb-07 there was a post on The Chicago Blog about it. I suspect that many of the YouTube views came before my piece ran in TidBITS, given that the NRK News story about the situation apparently aired on 19-Feb-07, the same day as that TidBITS issue went out.