YouTube and Orphaned Art

YouTube LogoSo we here at Medialoper have a friend named Joe. It’s not that Joe is a Luddite, but he’s maintained for years that this whole Internet thing is a fad. He’s warned us — oh, has he warned us! — not to get too comfortable with this whole online culture. Nothing good can come from it.

Then Joe discovered YouTube and a treasure trove of classic rockabilly videos (or whatever they were called before they were called videos). At least one ‘loper mother is sending her son links to old Buck Owens recordings. And so it goes. A lot of filmed material, stuff that formerly sat on the shelf, gathering dust, is being released into the YouTube wild.

When you think about it, we have a century’s worth of filmed entertainment, and not all of it is commercially viable. Those rockabilly videos might only appeal to a certain segment of the population. Other motion pictures, perhaps something from the golden age of public access, might not be worth much on the open market, but might just find the cult following that limited airwaves denied them the first go-round.

While the music industry is posturing over the rights and wrongs of YouTube (in this corner, we have Universal declaring that they’ve lost millions of dollars; in the other corner, Warner is seeing shiny advertising pennies), consumers are adding content to YouTube without a care in the world. They’ve hoarded material on tapes and reels for years now — if nobody else is going to put this stuff online, then it’s up to the people who know and love the material.

Terry Teachout, of the Wall Street Journal and About Last Night (accessible via, discovered a treasure trove of classic jazz videos. Sure, he acknowledges, some if this available on DVD compilations, but, alas, not all. Of course, finding content on YouTube requires the patience of a saint:

I discovered along the way that using YouTube’s literal-minded search engine to track down high-culture links — or anything else — can be a tricky business. (It doesn’t help that so many YouTube users are poor spellers.)

As Teachout and many others realize, there are going to be be copyright issues and, yes, violations. When it comes to very old video, things taped for long-forgotten television shows or filmed during live performances, provenance is a tricky thing to establish. U.S. law goes overboard to protect copyright, but doesn’t offer much in the way of tools to help consumers (or anyone, for that matter) track down rights owners. What with mergers and divorces and bankruptcies and phoenix-like recoveries and just plain “Gone Fishing” situations, media companies don’t even know what they own. It’s possible that the plight of orphaned art might become the cause celebre of the 21st century.

Okay, that was just plain wishful thinking. Back to reality. Once you dig down below the stupid human tricks and almost-but-not-quite porn and lonelygirl15 clones, you can find lost treasures of our civilization available for your viewing pleasure. Provided that you’re willing to indulge in a little creative spelling.

Oh yes, Joe now sees the beauty of the Internet. But he’s pretty sure it’s still just a fad. At least now, he can enjoy the music until the they pull the plug.

3 Responses to “YouTube and Orphaned Art”

  1. Webomatica says:

    I myself have found old beverage (soda, beer) ads fascinating, and located a fair number on YouTube. I wonder what the copyright implications are for old ads? The whole point of them is to be seen for free.

  2. Kassia says:

    I imagine there’s a lot of fun to be had in old commercials — and you raise an interesting question. Sure we’re talking about copyrighted material, someone owns this stuff, but when you think about the purpose of a commercial, well, yeah, they were meant to be free.

    Wow, I need to think more on this concept.


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