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Monday, Feb 12, 2007, 7:12 pm

FlexTube: Custom Video Blog Network Software Eliminates Problems of 3rd Party Host Services

By Brian Zick
Bloggers can’t afford to rely on YouTube any more, or other third party host services, to display video clips of newsworthy material.

YouTube has been pulling videos and suspending user accounts, in response to litigation threats from big corporate copyright holders who have been claiming infringement. There is a history of large corporations having commonly used threat of lawsuit to secure their objectives, whether any given case would actually stand up legally or not. SLAPP suits - Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation - were often used by corporations, in times past, against environmentalists who protested land development, for example. (Anti-SLAPP laws now exist in several states to guard against the misuse of litigation.)

And just as the prospect of enormous financial expenditure was generally sufficient to deter the protests of environmentalists, so too YouTube has caved, and taken down videos. A great many videos posted on YouTube are indeed - and quite obviously - in violation of copyright law. However, not all of the videos yanked have been in violation.

The Fair Use exception to copyright provides that under a certain specific set of conditions, the use of otherwise copyright protected material is allowable. The purposes of education and news reporting are a couple of the allowed exceptions. But it appears that YouTube - perhaps understandably - has opted to pull down even the exempted videos, in order to play it safe and avoid having to undertake the time and expense of arguing the merits of any given case in court.

YouTube’s lack of spine is frustrating, and the corporate threats against plainly exempted usage is infuriating. But the fact is that YouTube doesn't have any obligation to showcase anybody's video either. In a way similar to restaurants having "a right to refuse service" for a variety of totally legitimate and non-discriminatory reasons, YouTube has a right not to display videos. And that has become a problem to bloggers who have enjoyed the service heretofore provided.

News and opinion blogs, which feature video that clearly falls under Fair Use exception to copyright law, can't afford to rely on third party hosts which are either unknowing of the law or unwilling or financially unable to fight for their users.

Fortunately, there is an alternative: FlexTube. FlexTube employs a proprietary software solution to display video content (professionally produced and/or user created), but differs from YouTube in a couple of very significant ways. A blogger can use FlexTube’s host servers (just like uploading to YouTube or other services) - but with fully customizable channels to coordinate with a blogger’s own site graphics. (The proprietors of FlexTube do enjoy a working acquaintance with a most prominent copyright attorney.) But FlexTube also offers a licensed use (like other software licenses), so buyers can install and control the software on their own servers. And thereby avoid the hazards posed by the need to rely on a third party operation to host the video.

For a complete synopsis of features, read FlexTube’s product description here.

Full disclosure:
Towards the end of 2004, I saw a software demo at an LAFlash user group meeting, which triggered in my mind the potential for creating a video blog network. I developed an outline for the variety of technical and creative issues that I thought such an operation would entail, and in a series of email exchanges I discussed the idea with Jerome Armstrong, who was very graciously encouraging. But Jerome had rather quite a lot of other important business to contend with, and he was unable to devote attention to the idea. I had other work to deal with myself, and I didn’t have the technical wherewithal to aggressively pursue the idea in any event. But the emergence of broadband combined with the advent of new video technology (cameras, digital recording and editing software) served as handwriting on the wall to anyone who was paying attention.

Then YouTube came along. (I'm not claiming I had the idea first, just independently.) Which was then bought by Google. (Alas, Jerome and I both let that damn $2.5 billion slip through our fingers.) Slightly before the time I raised the subject with Jerome, I discussed the idea with my friend R Blank, who is a premier Flash author here in Los Angeles. And I was recently quite pleased to learn that R - who is a gifted programming talent - has been working on his own version of the idea, the result being FlexTube. And R, being an upstanding guy, has generously offered me a commission on any sales I might happen to generate. So I may in certain circumstances have a financial stake in this.

But I've had an emotional and intellectual investment in the idea for quite awhile. Whether or not I happen to gain any income from the enterprise, it's an important development in the evolution of online video.

And it's not just a benefit for bloggers. FlexTube affords the possibility for individual users to functionally operate their own personal "TV" program networks. Political campaigns can provide daily (hourly) candidate and issues TV. The "Lonely Girl" show could now conceivably be seen at regularly scheduled intervals on her own website, or the site of her producers in concert with other programming choices. The capability now exists for producers, or consortiums, to host their own comedy, sports, gossip, news and opinion, music performance and cooking video programming. Or whatever else creative authors can conceive.

In the very same way that blogs like Dailykos and Eschaton and Talking Points Memo provide direct competition to news operations (broadcast and print), websites hosting their own online video - of whatever content - can now directly compete with the programming choices presented by ABC, NBC, CBS ESPN, and elsewhere on the broadcast and cable spectrum.

Although it is true that, like what happens when lesser talents owning a Photoshop license to create graphics produce less compelling imagery, the web will likely become even more glutted with video crap. But the quality of crapness will ultimately reside in the eye of individual beholders. And at least folks - common ordinary citizens, who may not have much money, but who have been blessed with some imagination - now have the chance to try and compete. And to surprise and delight. And to inform. Without being held hostage to the vested self-interests of third party video hosts. The combination of FlexTube's software and licensing arrangement makes it possible.
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