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Technology | YouTube hopes grants will spur the making of high-quality movies for its site

Issue: "Crossing the Rubiocon," Aug. 14, 2010

Movie-making-once the sole purview of big-budget film studios, or at least a couple of guys with an expensive camera-is now fully democratized, with HD-quality recording available on tiny Flip cameras and even some cell phones. In its five years of operation, YouTube has helped fuel the revolution, making stars out of people who can sing, dance, act, or just do weird things on camera. But many of YouTube's videos still have amateur content and production quality; most professionally produced videos land on competitors' sites such as Hulu.com, drawing away potential viewers and advertising revenue.

Hoping to change this, YouTube recently announced a $5 million Partner Grants Program, which will give emerging, talented, but non-affluent filmmakers a few thousand dollars-or a few hundred thousand-to back their projects. Through this program, YouTube hopes to attract more professional content to its site-along with larger audiences and mainstream advertisers.

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Divide conquered?

A decade ago, politicians often spoke of the "digital divide"-the knowledge gap between affluent populations with easy access to technology and poorer folks (some of them black or Hispanic) who lack skills and resources necessary for success in a digital society. Yet a recent report published by the Pew Research Center's Internet and American Life Center revealed that African-Americans and Hispanics are now more likely than whites to own cell phones and use them for a greater range of activities, including browsing the internet. Rates of laptop ownership are also rising in these populations. The data suggest that the digital divide is closing-but some analysts argue that using the web on a cell phone (especially one with fewer features than a "smart" phone) means the user's access to the internet is severely limited by the phone's pared-down capabilities.

Price of piracy

Illegal file distributors still pay hefty fines when caught, but the price of piracy just declined. Last July, a jury decided that Joel Tenenbaum, a graduate student at Boston University, should pay a fine of $675,000 for illegally downloading and sharing 30 songs on the internet. Tenenbaum appealed, and a federal judge recently cut the fine by 90 percent to $67,500, ruling that the original fine violated the Fifth Amendment's due­process clause and was "unprecedented and oppressive." The Recording Industry Association of America issued a statement saying that it would contest the ruling. Tenenbaum told the Boston Globe that he welcomed the ruling but the reduced amount is "equally unpayable to me."

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