Participatory media has exploded in recent times, and moves from strength to strength almost daily, with new services arriving and evolving that make communicating easier than ever. But who owns the work you share?
We are living through a huge shift away from top-down, one-way mass media and towards a democratized space of blogs, mashups, online video sharing and editing, citizen journalism and social networks that promise to change the way we communicate forever.
Photo Credit: Tom Denham
But who is in control of this wave of participatory media? Who is hosting this glut of independently produced media, and whose agendas do they serve?
Taking a look at the most popular participatory media websites on the web, it is clear to see that they have the clout of large corporations behind them. MySpace is the property of the monolithic Fox Interactive; YouTube has entered a partnership with the Time/Warner/AOL conglomerate; Google continues to steadily bu out start ups across the web.
How far can these corporate facilitators of the new "user generated content" be trusted to safeguard the democratic roots from which they have grown, and how might their vested interests interfere with the fundamental messages being communicated by this empowered audience?
The massive popularity of sites such as YouTube, with its millions of visitors per day, is in no small part due to the ease with which it allows anyone to rapidly share video with huge audiences that might never otherwise encounter their work. But a closer look at its license reveals that users sign over a great deal of control when they choose to share video through the service. Robert Cringely writes:
''Here are the exact words of the new YouTube license:
"...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 YouTube license says "you retain all of your ownership rights in your User Submissions." And while that's true, the license explicitly gives them the right to do whatever they want with your video. They say they don't have the rights to sell users' content, but the wording says otherwise and there's nothing in the license to prohibit them from doing so.''
Photo Credit: Tom Denham
While paying lip service to the democratic, free sharing of information, then, services like YouTube reserve the right to co-opt, edit, repackage and sell on the citizen produced media that they distribute. Likewise, sites such as MySpace gather information on their users to use in future marketing campaigns, or sell on to interested parties. The choice of which service you use to distribute your homemade productions can, then, have a huge impact on how they are accessed and who has control over them, not to mention the ways that they might be swamped in advertising, sidelined by sponsored content or used to promote products and services entirely beyond your control.
In this video introduction to the problems surrounding corporate control of online media, COA News takes a look at how citizen journalism and grassroots media are changing and democratizing the way we communicate, raising an all important question along the way: can we really trust corporations, with vested interests, to host and distribute this new wave of participatory media?
Source: Steve Anderson, COA News
Read More Elsewhere
If you would like to read more about participatory media and corporate control, the following sites have some great information: