AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
It wasn't so long ago that just about everyone was taking YouTube to court, charging copyright infringement. Media companies claimed the site's success was based on illegally uploading clips of TV shows and movies. They're still saying that, but at the same time, old media can't deny the powers of YouTube's huge audience, so companies are scrambling to figure out ways to work with YouTube.
From Los Angeles, Shereen Marisol Meraji explains.
SHEREEN MARISOL MERAJI, BYLINE: Maybe you need a good cry.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN 1: Couldn't sleep last night because I know that it's over between us.
MERAJI: Could be you're nostalgic for times past.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "CASABLANCA")
HUMPHREY BOGART: (as Rick Blaine) Here's looking at you, kid.
MERAJI: Or you just feel like laughing at someone getting hit right in the unmentionables.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN 2: Oh.
MERAJI: Whatever your mood, you've probably watched clips from your favorite movies or TV shows on YouTube. And, most likely, the clips weren't supposed to be there.
VIN DI BONA: Here's what happened...
MERAJI: Vin Di Bona's the TV producer behind "America's Funniest Home Videos."
BONA: Turned on the television and CBS Evening News said, there's something new. It's called YouTube. It's a way to trade video and collect things and share it and we're going to show you what it does. And they showed six clips and damned if three of them weren't mine.
MERAJI: Di Bona called his lawyer and the cease and desist chase was on, but it was his responsibility to search the site for pirated material and have it taken down.
BONA: It was like playing Whack-A-Mole. You know, whack the mole and six more pop up and those are my clips. So there's no way to stay ahead of this game. So, if you can't stay ahead of the game, you have to make a decision. Do you join the game?
MERAJI: Di Bona put on his game face and partnered with YouTube. His channels, CuteWinFail and Petsami, repackaged those funny home videos we all know and love, legally. An ad plays before the videos start and Di Bona and YouTube share the revenue.
BONA: We began to embrace it and it's become very successful.
MERAJI: LA-based entrepreneurs...
RICH RADDON: Rich Raddon, cofounder of MOVIECLIPS.
ZACH JAMES: Zach James, cofounder of MOVIECLIPS.
MERAJI: ...knew that movie studios were having the same problem with piracy as Vin Di Bona, so Zach James said...
JAMES: Why don't we go on YouTube and help figure this out with the studios.
MERAJI: Zach and Rich Raddon's venture-funded startup, MOVIECLIPS, works with six major studios and a handful of independents to help them embrace YouTube.
RADDON: Clips can be a powerful driver to watching the feature film. And so, when we walked in, we thought, hey, do these licensing deals with us. You know we'll treat the content correctly. And let's see if we can't throw people after they watch the clip to buy or rent the movie.
MERAJI: MOVIECLIPS has a staff of more than 50 film nerds to make that happen.
JULIANNA STRICKLAND: I studied critical film studies, actually, so I love watching movies and writing about them. That's what I did all four years of college.
MERAJI: Twenty-six year old Julianna Strickland is a content curator for MOVIECLIPS. She trolls YouTube for illegal uploads, but rather than forcing the guilty party to take the clip down, Strickland claims it on behalf of the studio that owns the copyright. The best part, she gets to watch movies, pick the most memorable moments and upload those clips to YouTube.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "L.A. STORY")
STEVE MARTIN: (as Harris) SanDeE, your breasts feel weird.
SARAH JESSICA PARKER: (as SanDeE) Oh, that's because they're real.
MERAJI: Today, it's "L.A. Story."
STRICKLAND: We always make a clip have a beginning, a middle and an end, then I put everyone that's in the scene, so Steve Martin, Richard Grant, Victoria Tennant, Sarah Jessica Parker. I put some memorable dialog.
SanDeE, your breasts feel weird. And she's like, oh, that's because they're real. And you put discussion topics...
MERAJI: Hours of tedious work, so this legal content will show up first when you go searching for your favorite movie clip on YouTube. Not an easy task when 60 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute, but Thomas Hughes with Lionsgate, the indie studio behind "The Hunger Games," says it's working.
THOMAS HUGHES: We don't have the time or the resources to do it. They do it for us, minding the Ps and Qs and make it available for the world to see. We've seen our claimed views double and we fully expected that.
MERAJI: The more views you claim, the easier it is to prove to advertisers that you've got the eyeballs they want to reach. Take Viacom, which owns Paramount Pictures. Viacom is suing YouTube for copyright infringement. Simultaneously, Paramount is cashing in by partnering with MOVIECLIPS, so the next time you need a little Michael Corleone in your life...
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THE GODFATHER")
AL PACINO: (as Michael Corleone) Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.
MERAJI: ...you won't have to feel too guilty. For NPR News, I'm Shereen Marisol Meraji in Los Angeles.