On October 26, a YouTube user named crimewriter95 posted a full-length version of Pulp Fiction, rearranged in chronological order.
A couple things struck me about this video.
First, I'm surprised that a full-length, 2.5-hour very slight remix of a popular film can survive on YouTube for over six weeks without getting removed. Now that it's on Kottke and Buzzfeed, I'm guessing it won't be around for much longer.
But I was just as amused by the video description:
"The legendary movie itself placed into chronological order. If you'd like me to put the full movie itself up, let me know and I'll be glad to oblige. Please no copyright infringement. I only put this up as a project."
These "no copyright infringement intended" messages are everywhere on YouTube, and about as effective as a drug dealer asking if you're a cop. It's like a little voodoo charm that people post on their videos to ward off evil spirits.
How pervasive is it? There are about 489,000 YouTube videos that say "no copyright intended" or some variation, and about 664,000 videos have a "copyright disclaimer" citing the fair use provision in Section 107 of the Copyright Act.
Judging by his username, I'm guessing crimewriter95 is 16 years old. I wouldn't be surprised if most of those million videos were uploaded by people under 21.
He's hardly alone. On YouTube's support forums, there's rampant confusion over what copyright is. People genuinely confused that their videos were blocked even with a disclosure, confused that audio was removed even though there was no "intentional copyright infringement." Some ask for the best wording of a disclaimer, not knowing that virtually all video is blocked without human intervention using ContentID.
YouTube's tried to combat these misconceptions with its Copyright School, but it seems futile. For most people, sharing and remixing with attribution and no commercial intent is instinctually a-okay.
Under current copyright law, nearly every cover song on YouTube is technically illegal. Every fan-made music video, every mashup album, every supercut, every fanfic story? Quite probably illegal, though largely untested in court.
No amount of lawsuits or legal threats will change the fact that this behavior is considered normal — I'd wager the vast majority of people under 25 see nothing wrong with non-commercial sharing and remixing, or think it's legal already.
Here's a thought experiment: Everyone over age 12 when YouTube launched in 2005 is now able to vote.
What happens when — and this is inevitable — a generation completely comfortable with remix culture becomes a majority of the electorate, instead of the fringe youth? What happens when they start getting elected to office? (Maybe "I downloaded but didn't share" will be the new "I smoked, but didn't inhale.")
Remix culture is the new Prohibition, with massive media companies as the lone voices calling for temperance. You can criminalize commonplace activities from law-abiding people, but eventually, something has to give.
Update, February 11: Everybody's singing the YouTube Disclaimer Blues.