We've treaded this ground before, most notably when Steve Hartman's segment on high school basketball player Jason McElwain generated a whole lot of buzz – especially on YouTube, where video of the segment became the most viewed item on the site one week, generating more than 1 million viewers. It generated a lot of attention for the broadcast, but it also raised some copyright issues. CBS News eventually contacted YouTube and asked that the video be removed from the site, as it had been used without permission from the network. At the time, Senior Vice President and General Manager of CBSNews.com Betsy Morgan told us: "It's uncool for people to take our video without permission. It's interesting and encouraging that there's that much of an audience for our content. But this stuff should come back to the core site – otherwise it's theft."
Several months later, however, it looked like CBS' relationship with YouTube was changing. Sean McManus, told TV Week: "You've got to find the fine line between the great promotion YouTube gives a network, and protecting our rights. Our inclination now is, the more exposure we get from clips like that, the better it is for CBS News and the CBS television network, so in retrospect we probably should have embraced the exposure, and embraced the attention it was bringing CBS, instead of being parochial and saying 'let's pull it down.'"
It appears there is another element of video-sharing sites like YouTube that poses a different kind of problem, one that arose recently with a story aired on the "Evening News" last Thursday. Correspondent Byron Pitts went to Jacksonville, N.C., to gauge support for the war among residents of the area surrounding Camp Lejeune, N.C. (you can watch the segment here.) The segment that aired included portions of his interview with Ret. Col. Jim Van Riper, a lifelong conservative who no longer supports President Bush. CBSNews.com posted an extended version of the Van Riper interview, which you can watch here.
On YouTube, a user posted the segment and included about 1 minute and 30 seconds of the extended interview with Van Riper within the piece, which essentially made it appear as though the extended interview was part of the segment that aired.
Situations like that effectively muddy that ever-fuzzy line – YouTube users can not only re-purpose material, but they can re-edit it. And as far as CBS is concerned, the buzz that might be generated for the story isn't worthwhile if the story itself is altered.
"While we appreciate the importance of introducing our content to those who may not regularly visit CBSNews.com," Mike Sims, director of news and operations for CBSNews.com, told me in an e-mail, "we can't allow our content to be re-edited and presented in a way so as to make the audience think this is our product. While some editing may be 'benign,' it could dramatically change the tone, and even the accuracy of the piece in a way that totally misrepresents what we reported."
YouTube has since removed the video at CBS' request. The Web address that formerly contained the video now offers this message: "This video has been removed at the request of copyright owner CBS Broadcasting, Inc., because its content was used without permission."
Video-sharing sites like YouTube have their obvious advantages in terms of information sharing – they're able to see material they might not otherwise have come across. During the recent Israel-Hezbollah conflict, YouTube became a popular source for raw material that wasn't necessarily available through traditional outlets. The main problem there, of course, is that YouTube doesn't function as an editor, but a conduit for material, so there's really no telling how certain videos have been generated and whether they're accurate. For news content distributed through those means, it looks as though questions of what's cool with news outlets will continue to arise.