When Ourmedia.org launched this past March, it provided a free space for creators of all types of content—including video, audio, and the written word—to distribute their content. Perhaps more importantly, however, it stepped in to fill an emerging need for a forum in which to discuss the best ways to create, produce, and distribute content.
According to JD Lasica, a journalist and founder of the site along with Mark Cantor (who helped found Macromedia), they wanted to create a site where people could take advantage of today's tools and self-publish their creative works. "Ourmedia is about enabling the grassroots media revolution. We are here to help people share their personal media with the rest of the world, give them pointers and guidance about how to do this, and share and talk about best practices," Lasica says.
He says the idea was spawned partly by research he did for his recently published book about the personal media revolution, called Darknet. Lasica says he felt dissatisfaction when he talked to people about distributing personal content. "After I did all this research I just sensed how frustrated people were by copyright laws written for 19th or 20th century technology that really don't take into consideration the advances made in the digital age. How are we going to enable the remix revolution, for example, and all of this other stuff hidden away in the dark, hidden recesses of the Internet, the Darknet, that should be brought out into the open and celebrated? Ourmedia is what evolved out of it," Lasica explains.
Ourmedia, itself a grassroots effort, is operated by an all-volunteer staff including programmers and moderators. It began last summer, according to Lasica, when Brewster Kahle at the Internet Archive in San Francisco offered anyone free storage for Internet media. Lasica decided to take Kahle up on the offer and started a Wiki about creating a site where people could contribute their personal media. From there, about 100 people showed up, and out of this initial effort the idea of Ourmedia took shape.
Lasica says when Ourmedia launched on March 21, someone posted about the new site on Slashdot, and Ourmedia was so inundated on the first day that their servers crashed. Fortunately, they resolved the early issues and as of press time more than 12,000 people had contributed a variety of media to the site including music, audio tracks, MP3s, text, and videos. Lasica says the last are by far the most popular media so far. "People like that it's free and that they can upload their video, and if it becomes popular, they don't get socked with big bandwidth bills by their ISP," says Lasica.
One concern is ensuring that people are not uploading copyrighted content to the site. To prevent that, Lasica says, they have set up a volunteer "Neighborhood Watch." "We have about 25 volunteer moderators from 10 countries. We aren't gatekeepers, but we are going to look over your shoulder after you upload to make sure you haven't violated our rules," Lasica says. "So far, there have been only around 40 violations out of more than 3,000 contributions, so we are pretty happy about that."
Lasica says he wants to avoid being the copyright police, but will contact members who have blatantly violated site rules. He points out, however, that it is not always clear what constitutes a copyright violation, so Ourmedia has volunteer attorneys they can consult on issues that may be in a legal grey area. "If it is a blatant violation, if someone has uploaded copyrighted music, somebody else's music, we suspend them for a week. Others who don't know arcane copyright law, we give a warning," he says. "This is a tricky area of fair use in cyberspace and we are still feeling our way."
Lasica, who is working up to 60 hours a week for free, says that the eventual goal of Ourmedia is to create a set of standards and tools so that users can have easy access to an open source toolset and other grassroots sites can work with the Ourmedia standards and APIs to create a network of grassroots media sites. "Our ultimate goal is for Ourmedia not to be a site, it's to be a network, a registry. I think this is going take a year or more to be realized. We want to create an open API," Lasica continues, "so that any grassroots site in the world can plug into open media standards, and Ourmedia will be the platform to make that happen."
(www.archive.org; www.darknet.com; www.ourmedia.org)