Interview with Ben Moskowitz from the OPEN VIDEO ALLIANCE
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Almost three months after attending the Open Video Conference in New York City, I still had several question marks hovering over my head about the future of online video as well as its present state. The conference had surely been an eye-opener for me, and I was convinced that the people around me, whether they were members of the audience or speakers on stage, were the creators and followers of a new wave in online video sharing called “open video,” which might as well be called a social movement.
What is so uplifting about this movement is that open video is slowly yet surely becoming a tool that brings people together from all over the globe, and encourages innovation and sharing while letting unheard voices be heard loud and clear. But sometimes, we find ourselves running into issues like censorships, copyright limitations, and technological restrictions as we do while using any other type of media. So yes, there are concerns that need to be resolved, but there is also good news.
Ben Moskowitz, one of the organizers of the Open Video Conference and the general coordinator of the Open Video Alliance (OVA) breaks the good news to me. “When you have open source technology and open standards, the range of things you can do expands much faster, because people are able to tinker, add, and innovate in ways that they can’t with proprietary technologies,” says Moskowitz, underlining the importance of a community—a participatory culture that powers online video and allows it to be such a highly accessible medium both in its creation and distribution.
Ben Moskowitz is also a part of the Students For Free Culture. He talked to me about the driving force behind the OVA, the future of online video, fair use, and how we can turn the internet into a collaborative platform.
F.A. On June 19th, you had the first edition of Open Video Conference in New York City. The conference was made possible by the Open Video Alliance other than the sponsors and participants who supported the event. What is the driving force behind the Open Video Alliance and what it wants to accomplish?
B.M. The Open Video Alliance began as a partnership between a few groups that were concerned about the future of video. Some of these early groups were the Yale Information Society Project at Yale Law School, the Participatory Culture Foundation, and Kaltura who has a full open source video platform. These people wanted to make sure that video developed openly as a medium so that as many people could participate in creating, distributing, and using it as possible. The first big thing we did was the Open Video Conference, and the idea behind it was to bring together all the people who would be involved in building the open video ecosystem. From the developers who write the producing technology to the lawyers, from the artists who create the concepts to the business people who sell the concepts, everyone is part of this ecosystem. We wanted to bring together all these stakeholders and talk about what would be necessary to shepherd video into the future that we are aspiring to.
F.A. The conference was quite interactive, and it seemed to me that the majority of the audience was there because they wanted to educate themselves about something that might one day be called a social movement. Would you also consider ‘open video’ a social movement? And if so, what makes this initiative such a powerful medium?
B.M. For the longest time the tools for creating video and the mechanisms for distributing it belonged to a very small group of people, and now this is changing. If you think of the media at large, or television and movie industries specifically, you think of very high quality stuff created by professionals. I believe one reason for people to be so attracted to the idea of open video is that it turns everyone into a creator, because video cameras and video editing software are so cheap and accessible. The tools for creating something amazing and distributing it are now within close reach, and with these tools people are now on par with the professionals. There’s something very attractive about this, democratizing the creation of content. On top of that, the phenomenon of remixing was a big part of the conference. The idea that you can take content and change it, cut it up, and rearrange it, or reconfigure it to make a statement... This is also very powerful, and I think a lot of people are attracted to open video also for this reason.
F.A. While we can freely share text and images online, the risk of finding ourselves in trouble while sharing videos is greater due to restrictions such as copyright issues. What kind of options does Open Video bring to content-creators to help them freely share their work online?
B.M. I think there are two ways of looking at this: The technical problem and the social, legal problem. The technical problem is that sharing video is more difficult than sharing text, because we don’t have a standardized way of sharing video that is free and that belongs to everybody. The great majority of content delivered online is delivered in the Adobe Flash Player. Flash has been an amazing boon to online video so far, but now we’re entering a space where—due to more bandwidth and powerful computers—the range of things we can do with video and sharing it is enormous. So when entering into this new frontier, we think it’s important to make sure that the basic and fundamental technologies for video do not belong to one company or individual, but they belong to the community.
When you have open source technology and open standards, the range of things you can do expands much faster, because people are able to tinker, add, and innovate in ways that they can’t with proprietary technologies. One of our missions is to push this. I think you’ll see that if we’re successful and lucky to have a strong base of open video technologies, then sharing will be much easier. If you’re watching an hour long video on YouTube and want to send a fifteen second clip from it to your co-worker, you should be able clip that fifteen seconds and send it the same way you do with text—just copy and paste—but the technologies don’t exist for you to do that yet.
As far as the social/legal problems go, because creating video and distributing it have belonged to this elite class of content producers for a long time, the laws that are in place to govern them tend to favor the content producers. Let’s say that someone wants to put up a news clip that has been recorded from MSNBC. They upload it on a video platform to share the information with others, use it to have a debate, or to make a point. But MSNBC comes in and says, “No, that’s our content” and issues a takedown notice to the site. There’s no recourse at first: it’s going to come down. So it’s almost like the law gives the benefit of the doubt to the content owner even if the person using the content is not using it in an inappropriate way—stealing or pirating it—but in fact, using it in a fair way to make a point or create a conversation. We think the law is insufficient in that area and hope to extend the concept of fair use by changing some of the laws we have like the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. So those are the two insertion points for the Open Video Alliance: One is to make sure the tools exist and that they’re good. The second is to make sure that the law supports the ability of people to use video this way.
F.A. From what I’ve experienced, I can say that the conference in June was highly talk and lecture-oriented. Do you have any plans to include interactive sessions—besides Q&A(s)—such as workshops where people can play with new tools and perhaps test new software that will make their video sharing experience any different?
B.M. We haven’t announced anything about the next conference yet, but I think it’s safe to say that it will be a lot more interactive. The quality of speakers and discussion will be extremely high. We are planning on having smaller, more focused open video workshops in different cities. Perhaps some on the west coast and some on the east coast, but I think it’s safe to say major cities like Boston, New York, L.A… If you follow the OVA blog, we will be announcing that as soon as we can.
F.A. During his lecture at the OVC, Yochai Benkler quotes Eric von Hippel: “Innovation comes from a network of connected people, some inside a company, some outside, some in the market, some outside of the market, all working around an innovation system that allows anyone to say, “I identified a project. I have an idea. I can do something useful. Here, you can do it too.” In a way, (for me) this identifies the motivation behind an initiative like Open Video. How can we educate people to partake in a more “participatory culture?” Meaning how can we let people know that they can give and take information freely and play an integral role in the creation of a more transparent culture?
B.M. If you look at the Internet, there are really two visions of it in the American popular consciousnesses. The first is that the Internet is just a place where you log on to get stock quotes, movie times, and news, a place where you just take. It’s an information service and you're just logging in to consume the information. I think that this is not the right way to look at the Internet. The right way of looking at the Internet—the second vision—is seeing it as a collaborative platform, as a place where you can both give and take. You can create a blog and tell the world how you feel. You can create a profile on Film Annex, upload videos and broadcast them to the world. The way to insure that this second view is the popular one is to encourage people to hop in and add to a Wikipedia entry for example. Another important thing is for schools to integrate the process of learning into the Internet and create school projects that will go online to insure that the Internet is a participatory place, where you can learn and share.
F.A. Do you think social networks like Twitter contribute to this participatory culture? What kind of role do they play in the advancement of Open Video?
B.M. Yes, I definitely think they do because I see social networks as specialized search engines. When you’re on the Internet and know where to find what you want, you google it and get the expected result. But you aren’t always going to know what you want. There are obviously things you can’t discover for yourself. So I think social networks bring to the table great engines for content discovery. The word of mouth they enable will be the most important way people get their content going forward. If you are an individual looking for a producer or a small independent studio lacking the budget to do marketing, the best thing for you to do is to leverage word of mouth, to have your friends tell their friends who will tell their friends, and so on. For this reason, social networks are critically important and they have a central role in making sure that content that is not professionally produced can get distributed and people can enjoy it.
You can find more information about the Open Video Alliance on their website http://openvideoalliance.org and their Film Annex page at http://filmannex.com/openvideoalliance
Interview by Eren Gulfidan