Online video viewership metrics service Vidmeter has released an in-depth study on a sample of the most popular YouTube videos to see how many of them were pulled for copyright violation in a 3.5-month period or so, finding that less than 10 percent of the videos sampled were pulled for copyright violations and that they only received almost 6 percent of the views of the videos in the sample.
In other words, copyrighted material does not explain the popularity of the video sharing site, and coloring arguments about the YouTube community as a site of rampant "piracy" is an argument that does not reflect the myriad ways in which the site is used by the YouTube that really matters, the community that empowers the site through its sharing activities.
The group concludes that:
Unauthorized copyright videos make up a relatively small portion of YouTube's most popular videos and an even smaller portion of views. While the study did find a fair number of blatantly pirated full-length clips from television shows and movies, the bulk of views to removed videos consisted of music videos and short clips from comedy sketches and unique sporting events.
This coincides with my prior arguments that, even when YouTube members share copyrighted material, it is most often as quotes from the overall program, or else sharing video that is not presently commercially available from the archives of a show.
Back in January, I first wrote about quoting drawing interest in YouTube, pointing out that these quotes are "vibrant marketing tools, as they show enough content from your show to whet others' appetites (if the show's good, anyway), without users being able to plunk the whole show up for free. I think people very well should be upset about piracy, but quoters are not pirates."
See more about the importance of quotability to the YouTube community here.
Vidmeter used a sample of 6,725 YouTube videos to measure the number and viewership of videos uploaded and later removed from the video sharing site. According to its abstract, "The purpose of this report is to provide a fact-based representation of the popularity of unauthorized copyrighted videos on YouTube as well as the relative popularity of each copyright owner's videos."
The company collected the most watched videos on YouTube for the day, week, month, and all time four times a day from 09 December to 22 March, collecting data on the number of views, copyright holder, and name of each of the video used in the sample.
Those listed as copyrighted in the report were pulled down and replaced with a copyright notice.
The videos in YouTube's sample received a total of 1.587 billion views, with 9.23 percent of these videos having been removed during this time span for copyright violations.
Those videos in the sample that had been removed received a combined total of 94.187 million views, which accounts for just 5.93 percent of the sample.
Thanks to Ivan Askwith for directing me to the report.