The Shutterstock Blog is in Austin for South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive, a conference for geeks technology aficionados like us. There is a lot to take in here: New social networking tools to try, panel discussions about cutting-edge topics, people handing out branded merchandise (and beer) around every corner of the Austin Convention Center. Rather than try to cover everything, we’ve been looking for topics we think visual media professionals will find interesting.
Today we learned about the future of online video—something we have a keen interest in, as you can see at Shutterstock Footage.

Right now most of the video we watch online is streamed through proprietary software, typically Adobe Flash and Microsoft Silverlight. Many Internet developers are pushing for a more open standard of video, in which web pages handle video much as they do images. That would make video files more universal and portable—as easy to copy and save as a photograph you see on a web page.

This morning we watched a panel discussion featuring:

The panel leaned in favor of giving audiences free reign to copy and re-use video footage. Technology, as Surman explained, is moving very quickly in the direction of open video sharing.

Kreisinger asserted that using clips from the HBO show Sex and the City to make a social comment about the show was fair use (in other words, legal under U.S. copyright law). But she also noted how tricky it can be to get access to that footage in editable format—she compared it, jokingly, to buying drugs.

Gaylor, who began his presentation with a very entertaining video clip featuring mashed up popular movies and songs, said the reason such creative projects are possible is that editors can grab the footage without asking for permission. “If we had to ask permission to do things in this way, the evolution of cinema, not to be hyperbolic, is at stake for me,” he said.

Is this fair to rights holders? The panelists spoke about the tremendous creative possibilities for mashup artists, and even the benefits for studios that make movies and TV shows: Their creations will live on as fans re-edit and re-imagine pop culture.

But hold on. We wondered if most video creators—including our Shutterstock footage contributors, who are earning money by licensing the rights to their work—would see it this way. Shouldn’t someone who invests time and money into shooting a video at least have the right to say no when someone wants to make free use of it in a project?

That’s the official stance of YouTube, as Kavanaugh explained. YouTube allows content holders to upload audio and video samples that they claim to own, then tell YouTube how to react if someone else uploads video that matches that content. This is why some video clips on YouTube that make use of copyrighted material have muted audio tracks, some are accompanied by links to buy songs legally, some are allow to stay online unchanged, and others are simply removed entirely. (You can read more here.) In the event of a dispute (I say I own a clip; you say you own it or it’s fair use), the process proceeds under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, and lawyers get involved.

Just about everyone views the YouTube solution as a messy answer to a complicated problem. It gets worse when you consider that fair use and fair dealing laws vary from place to place; YouTube is available in over 20 countries.

We’d be interested to hear your thoughts. Should artists be free to copy and remix popular videos like TV shows, or do we need stricter controls to protect the rights of copyright holders?

Photo © Peter Kunasz/Shutterstock