Cartoons, Copyright and YouTube

So, what’s new in the world of animation this week? Well, YouTube has bowed to pressure from the movie studios and removed hundreds of animated films from their site, deleted hundreds of user accounts, and in the process, alienated thousands of users who’ll now be taking their business to other sites like DailyMotion. What is most disturbing about this indiscriminate purge of cartoons is that they’ve also removed dozens of public domain cartoons which were legally posted on their site. Warner shorts like EATIN’ ON THE CUFF, PORKY’S MIDNIGHT MATINEE and A DAY AT THE ZOO, as well as the Fleischer SUPERMAN shorts, are all films that have entered the public domain, and can be freely reedited, redistributed and resold without permission from anybody. Unfortunately, YouTube has shown a woeful ignorance of copyright law and removed these films citing a baseless “terms of use violation” clause.

It’s important to look at the root cause of why so many classic shorts are appearing online in the first place. It’s because they aren’t available anywhere else for legal purchase. If these cartoons were available for purchase on dvd or available for download online, there’s no way that anybody in their right mind could justify these lo-res versions that are appearing on YouTube. Disney, for example, has been doing a commendable job of releasing their animation library onto dvd, in their Treasures collections, and relatively few of those cartoons show up on video hosting/sharing sites. Disney has also taken another positive step forward by releasing individual shorts onto iTunes. Other media conglomerates, however, neither care about nor respect the classic animation in their vaults, and corrupt “copyright protection” laws have allowed these companies to withhold the cartoons from the public for far too long.

There’s plenty more to be said about this topic, and nobody is saying it more eloquently than animation director Mark Mayerson. He wrote an excellent article on his blog yesterday that I highly recommend checking out. He even offers a novel solution for how YouTube can address the issue of copyright, and please both the studios and fans. The bottom line though is that until studios start listening to consumers and make these classic cartoons widely available, they can expect the shorts to appear over and over on the multitude of video hosting sites now available to the public.

PS: Even though all the Tex Avery cartoons have been removed from YouTube, the opening of the DiC series, THE WACKY WORLD OF TEX AVERY, is still available on YouTube. If this is any indication of YouTube’s future, you may as well stick a fork in ‘em because they’re done.

UPDATE: Some really intelligent posts are turning up about this Youtube issue. Tony Mines of Spite Your Face Productions, has a post about the terrific manner in which his company has dealt with their cartoons turning up on YouTube. And here’s another great post from ‘J.C. Loophole’ that describes the situation from a collector’s perspective. Studios would be wise to read his thoughts – especially the last paragraph – and discover how consumers feel about these classic cartoons.