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Video Culture: The Potential Reshaping Of The Online Video Landscape

Harley went on to give a history lesson, much the way Paul Sagan did a few months ago at a Streaming Media East keynote. While Sagan's keynote addressed the similarities between cable TV and mass video consumption on the web, Harley went even farther back, noting that there were both technical and social implications in the initial video art movement in the 1970s. In Harley's view, 40 years ago video artists saw far-reaching changes as they attempted to offer an alternative to the "Information Society" and the one-way tube that broadcast television was at the time.

"The technological breakthrough started with the campak, or camera that had both a camera head and a shoulder-worn video recorder pack," said Harley, talking about the type of early VHS recorder-camera combinations that some of today's Hollywood directors cut their teeth on.

Harley also referenced Busting the Tube: A Brief History of Video Art, a book by Kate Horsfield, that take a radical view of putting powerful tools (rather than weapons) in the hands of the masses.

"Easy access to the tools to create video art was important, but that's only one part of the whole ecosystem," said Harley, "and distribution has remained the Achilles' heel of all video art movements. It's almost as difficult to view / access the video clips online as it was to find a location that would show video art in the 1970s."

The potential was certainly there, and innovations sprung up to allow content to be shown.

"Video festival circuits made perfect sense in the previous video art movement," said Harley, "but they were stunted by the physicality of the medium and projection of the content. In essence, one could make as many videos as you want, but who is going to store them and how will people view them?"

Progression has been slow, Harley posited, because the distribution tools for online video aren't any more robust than those for the old video festival circuit.

"What if we created a distribution system based on peer-to-peer, coupled with open-source codecs?" said Harley, offering one possible solution. "We'd see an extension of the original video art movement coupled with newer technologies that eschew proprietary video distribution models for open source models."

Perhaps expecting pushback on quality of open source tools, Harley argued that there is simply no difference between proprietary (such as Windows Media, QuickTIme, and Flash) and OSS (Ogg, FFmpeg) video encoding and decoding systems.

"While the big corporations create their own competing and non-interoperable 'standards' the OSS community has been working toward interoperability since day one," said Harley. "Open Source content management systems, using Creative Commons rights, have a much different approach than proprietary asset and content management systems."

Harley says the FLOSS ethos, coming out of a European mindset more than an American mindset, has been bolstered by the efforts of Montevideo in the Netherlands, Luxonline in the UK, and a few others. Harley also pointed out the v2.nl archive, as an open-source content system, and the REWIND video artist collection in the UK, catalogs artists' video from the 1970s and 1980s, which is re-mastering and archiving both single-screen and installation work on Digital Bitstream.

"Even in my home country, the National Film and Sound archive, Australia's audiovisual archive, is designed to collect, preserve and shares the country's heritage," said Harley, "but these monolithic, country-centric archives don't allow for re-telling of video histories."

Addressing the copyright issue, Harley also called out UbuWeb, controversial in the video artist community, which show a significant quantity of video art content, but claim exemption from copyright laws on the grounds that they are showing the content in an educational, non-commercial setting.

"If you see a crummy Shockwave version of a file," Harley said, wearing poor quality archives as almost as a badge of honor, "you might want to purchase a high-quality DVD, or travel to New York or London to see particular archives. But the even bigger question is whether there is a model for a globally-curated FLOSS video archive system? If so, how do we handle original content, mashups, and the metadata surrounding both."

Finally, Harley gave a series of kudos to a variety of sites that have less restrictive user agreements than YouTube.

"YouTube's user license restrictions are well known," said Harley, "and there are other alternatives, for distribution systems, such as Wikimedia, blip.tv, and videoart.net, allowing more flexibility for viewers and artists."

Harley suggested, in wrap up, that open-source players such as Miro (whose video players are "free and open source, because open video matters") will give way to open tools for distribution. As a final example, he noted the Project Gutenberg as an example to learn from.

"Take Project Gutenberg as an example," said Harley, "which has been around for years. It takes no license for the content is has digitized, instead encouraging free reproduction and uses long-lasting open formats to archive books that are in the public domain. That is a model we should emulate."

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