YouTube Direct Needs a Payment System, Too

YouTube Direct is a platform to let online content providers, especially news organizations:

embed the upload functionality of YouTube directly into your own site, enabling your organization to request, review, and re-broadcast user-submitted videos with ease. News organizations can ask for citizen reporting; nonprofits can call-out for support videos around social campaigns; businesses can ask users to submit promotional videos about your brand.

Essentially this lets anyone create the equivalent of CNN’s iReport operation. It’s a smart move by YouTube, and a welcome one in many respects.

But it’s the equivalent of iReport in another way that’s just as unfortunate as the original: no compensation for the video creators apart from a pat on the back.

In fact, it’s worse than that. Look at the terms of service at Channel 7 in Boston, one of YouTube’s partners, which include the following:

(W)hen you submit or post any material, you are granting us, and anyone authorized by us, a royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable, non-exclusive, unrestricted, worldwide license to use, copy, modify, transmit, sell, exploit, create derivative works from, distribute and/or publicly perform or display such material, in whole or in part, in any manner or medium, now known or hereafter developed, for any purpose. The foregoing grant shall include the right to exploit any proprietary rights in such posting or submission, including, but not limited to, rights under copyright, trademark, service mark, patent or other intellectual property law under any relevant jurisdiction.

As far as I can tell, none of the partners has even suggested an intention to pay anyone for what they submit. Which makes the tool a giveaway for the creator — and a windfall for the collector, not to mention YouTube, which cements its position in online video.

But there’s a silver lining. YouTube has open-sourced the platform. This means someone could add a feature the system desperately needs. I wrote about it a few months ago in this post.

To repeat what I said then, we need better ways:

to reward creators when it comes to breaking news, where news organizations derive enormous benefits from having the right image or video at the right time and too frequently get it for less than peanuts. Indeed, practically every news organization now invites its audience to submit pictures and videos, in return for which the submitters typically get zip.

Which is why we need a more robust marketplace than any I’ve seen so far, namely a real-time auction system.

The sites currently promoting citizen journalists’ work don’t offer anything of this sort, as far as I can tell. This isn’t to say I don’t like those sites, which include NowPublic and Demotix, because I like them a great deal. But someone needs to go further.

How would a real-time auction system work? The flow, I’d imagine, would go like this:

Photographer captures breaking news event on video or audio, and posts the work to the auction site. Potential buyers, especially media companies, get to see watermarked thumbnails and then start bidding. A time limit is enforced in each case. The winning bid goes to the journalist, minus a cut to the auction service.

The premium, then, would be on timeliness and authenticity. One or two images/videos would be likely to command relatively high prices, and everything else would be worth considerably less.

Eventually, someone will do this kind of business — which could also be useful for eyewitness text accounts of events. For the sake of the citizen journalists who are not getting what they deserve for their work, I hope it’s sooner than later.

This is worth working on, and fast, before the news industry decides it has found a nifty way to make money on other people’s work.