YouTube: Us Cultured Folk


YouTube is both a content publishing site and social media platform, whose interactive appeal and visual nature make it one of the most visited applications on the web. YouTube was founded on Valentine’s Day 2005 by former PayPal employees Chad Hurley, Steven Chen and Jawed Karim. The original intention was to make a video version of Flickr, where amateur and professional videos could be uploaded and shared. The first video was of Karim at a zoo, uploaded April 23rd. The beta site for the world to test was then launched in May [1].

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As YouTube garnered more attention, it was bought by Google in October 2006 for 1.65 billion dollars [2]. With the increase of YouTube’s staff, the enhanced capabilities of the site and the financial backing, YouTube could now afford to compensate anyone making viral content; this was significant, because any random citizen could be both YouTube famous and have their content profitable. YouTube has since introduced live video feeds, digital movie rentals, and even original content: possibilities that separate it from every other social media platform [2].



YouTube engages viewers with content and channels that you can follow, share, engage, like and comment on. As a repository for the world’s strange, gossip-trending, eccentric videos, YouTube reaches 81.2% of all internet users in America. The majority of its users range from teenagers to middle aged citizens, while 3 of 4 people over the age of 65 regularly use YouTube. YouTube is mostly used by the middle class, as less than 30% of its demographic make more than $75,000 a year, and less than 5% make approximately $25,000 a year [3].



YouTube’s visual layout enriches the users experience by offering videos that aren’t time sensitive, while engaging viewers with up close and personal content that goes one step further than image based social platforms such as Pinterest; even Instagram is limited to minute long videos. Users also have the option to structure and personalize their own pages with playlists where related videos can be grouped together and even placed in a specific order. YouTube’s unique style is essential to an institution’s storytelling and online engagement; it enables museums, libraries and archives to make accessible the treasures they have buried in their collections.


Institutions like The U.S. National Archive give video tours of their facilities, including their exhibitions and preservation projections (a behind-the-scenes look at how these artifacts are taken care of), while libraries such as the Toronto Public Library, upload videos of academic discussions, playlists of educational videos for children, and even tutorials for using their website. Even London’s Imperial War Museum utilizes YouTube’s visual nature to explore their conservation efforts and classroom resources. Yet, unlike the TPL and National Archive, the IWM shares videos that are usually no more than a few minutes long, the subject of which is based more heavily on promotional content of the museum’s holdings than exploring the institution and its exhibitions.

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Although YouTube offers institutions a great platform to engage and make accessible their holdings, most of YouTube’s users visit the site to watch cat or parkour videos. In order for institutions to capitalize on YouTube’s accessibility even more so, Emily Robbins suggests they should focus more on platform-specific strategy as, “museum channels that feature distinctly branded video series—organized into playlists, with a consistent style, naming conventions, titling, et cetera—perform overwhelmingly better than those that don’t [4].”

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Who owns what in this mish-mash of user content? YouTube’s Terms of Service states that you (the channel holder) retain all of your ownership rights in your Content, however, “by submitting Content to YouTube, you hereby grant each user a non-exclusive license to access your Content and to use, reproduce, distribute, display and perform such Content [5].” Yet, if a user wishes to use or reproduce such content they must do so with written consent from YouTube or the respective licensors of the Content. Many third-parties have their own copyright restrictions, which YouTube user’s must take into consideration when planning to reproduce or copy content from an institution’s YouTube channel. Toronto Public Library for example [6]:

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After a lengthy law suit with MTV owner Viacom that began in 2007, YouTube has become extremely conscious of copyright infringement. Viacom sued YouTube and its corporate parent Google Inc. for sharing unauthorized clips of Viacom programming, and stated that YouTube, “is based on building traffic and selling advertising off of unlicensed content [7].”


In response to Viacom’s lawsuit, YouTube developed a copyright enforcement tool referred to as Content ID. This is a great tool for institutions who upload content that have strict copyright or donor restrictions. Anytime a video is uploaded to YouTube, it is scanned against a database that holds a reference of every video submitted by content owners. If there happens to be a match, the video is flagged and the rights holder is notified. This creates a protective space where institutions can make their collection available without fear that their content will be manipulated without their knowledge.


In addition to Content ID, YouTuber’s should also be aware of content that falls under the public domain or is protected by a Creative Commons license. If museums and archives want their information to reach the largest demographic within the YouTube community, Creative Commons gives them the option to grant individuals the right to replicate and edit their videos without the restrictions of common copyright laws; they must mark their videos with a CC BY license if this is the case [8]. While Creative Commons allows for more flexible copyright regulations, they are not necessarily conducive to cultural heritage institutions that house a variety of artifacts that have different ownership rights. Having to acquire permission from all those sources would take considerable time and effort, and therefore many of the institutions on YouTube do not mark their videos with CC BY licenses.


For a full look into the Viacom vs. YouTube story:


For an overview of YouTube Terms of Service:


For a look at our YouTube channels:



[1] “A Brief History of YouTube.” YouTube5Year.


[2] Rose Dickley, Megan. “The 22 Turning Points in the History of YouTube.” Business Insider. February 15, 2013.


[3] Gaille, Brandon. “39 Astounding YouTube Demographics.” March 17, 2016


[4] Robbins, Emily. “How Should Museums Use Their YouTube Channel?” SFMOMA. May 2015.


[5] “Terms of Service.” YouTube. June 9, 2010.


[6] “Online and Social Media Policy.” Toronto Public Library. December 9, 2013.


[7] Alfano, Sean. “Viacom Sues YouTube, Google for $1B.” CBS News. March 13, 2007.


[8] “Creative Commons.” YouTube Help


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1 comment for “YouTube: Us Cultured Folk

  1. d1emery
    April 9, 2017 at 9:54 pm

    Researching Vimeo for our presentation, comparisons with YouTube were unavoidable. Beyond the similarities in services offered and the differences in reach and user base, we found it significant that both platforms used a copyright enforcement tool to check user uploads against copyrighted materials. Whereas YouTube uses Content ID, Vimeo uses a tool known as “Copyright Match.” It appears that both services elected to adopt this technology after facing respective lawsuits—from Viacom in the case of YouTube, and from Capitol Records LLC in the case of Vimeo. Although both services were awarded favourable judgements in their legal cases due primarily to their protection under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, the cases influenced both companies to tighten their actions taken against copyright infringement.

    YouTube’s Content ID tool, developed through Google, compares an uploaded video with a “reference file” contributed by the copyright holder. Vimeo’s Copyright Match tool, developed in partnership with Audible Magic, functions in much the same way, though it can be used only to compare duplications in audio. When either service finds a matched file on these bases and thus determines that a user has uploaded copyrighted content illegally, the video is immediately taken down and a warning is issued to the user. That user then has the option to contact the service to make a case for posting the video, whether under “fair use” or after clarifying an error with the matching system, and await a response.

    This process may feed into what author, attorney, and political activist Lawrence Lessig dubs “permission culture,” which opposes a so-called “free culture” and therefore ultimately hinders creativity. Lessig (2003) differentiates the two types of culture as follows:

    “A free culture supports and protects creators and innovators. It does this directly by granting intellectual property rights. But it does so indirectly by limiting the reach of those rights, to guarantee that follow-on creators and innovators remain as free as possible from the control of the past. … The opposite of a free culture is a ‘permission culture’—a culture in which creators get to create only with the permission of the powerful, or of creators from the past.” (xiv)

    Lessig, along with Hal Abelson and and Eric Eldred, ultimately founded Creative Commons in an effort to discourage the effects of permission culture and expand the amount of materials made available for creators and other users. Whereas services such as YouTube and Vimeo have elected to defend copyrighted materials and therefore enforce permission culture (despite their protection under legislation), other services such as Flickr have taken direct advantage of Creative Commons licensing to increase contributive opportunities for creators and promote free culture.

    – Magnus and David


    Lessig, L. (2003). Free culture. New York: Penguin.
    Raymond, N. (2016, June 16). Vimeo wins U.S. appeal in music copyright case. Reuters. Retrieved from
    Spangler, T. (2014, May 21). Vimeo starts scanning videos for copyright violations. Variety. Retrieved from
    United States Copyright Office. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998. Retrieved from
    YouTube Help. (2010). How Content ID works. Retrieved from

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