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Published December 28, 2012

In “Synchtube: Strategically Stymieing Boredom” article, the first part of this two-part series, I described how the synchtube service could be used to share movies together to combat boredom and poor attendance on structure grinds and other boring but necessary strategic operations. Did it sound good? You’re sold? Great! This article will teach you how to use it for that purpose, including considering technical and legal issues. However, its utility goes well beyond that, so I will also try to show you how and why synchtube is a tool in your armory for forging community and encouraging learning.

“synchtube for Dummies”

Here are the basic steps to use the service yourself for the first time:

  1. Visit http://www.synchtube.com/ and click the “Sign up” link in the upper right corner.
  2. Once your account is created, click the large yellow “Create Room” link to make a disposable room.
  3. Use either the embedded YouTube “Search” link or the “Load Directly” link to bring up a field to paste in a web address followed by return to add it to the room. Your content will be loaded and start playing. Stop it by pressing the “stop”/“pause” button.
  4. Click the “Settings” gear icon near the top right. Toggle the room to “Private room” to prevent the room from being publicly listed on the service. Click “Save” followed by “Close” to save your changes.
  5. Distribute the address shown in the “Share link” field at the top to whomever you like.
  6. When ready, click the “Play” button to start the stream for everyone.
  7. Have fun!

This room has an random name, so be sure to note down the address to visit the room later. You also have a permanent personal customizable room. Click your user name in the upper right corner to activate the drop-down and then choose “My Room.” This page shows the actual room address you would distribute or use to go to your permanent room. Note how your user name is in that address. Set a room password, add moderators, or add banners on this page. Your permanent room can be used over and over again, so you might want to clear the playlist content when finishing a session.

Pitfalls and Legality

As with all things that sound great, there are some potential pitfalls:

  • The Flash-driven viewer doesn’t work in-game
  • Your content must be hosted on a supported service
  • YouTube may deny viewing to some based on their IP address
  • The real address for your room may be based on your user name
  • Non-private rooms may be subject to crashes from random script bots

These can be overcome by reminding people to open the address in an external browser, sticking to content from YouTube or other supported services even if you need to upload it first, having backup content ready in case of geographical copyright issues, carefully choosing your user name that will be used for your permanent room address, and sticking to a private room.

The big elephant in the room (so to speak) is the legality of this service. An FC approached for an interview about how they use synchtube refused initially partially due to concerns about copyrighted content. This is a fair point. One of the advantages mentioned in the earlier article is that synchtube neatly sidesteps most of the copyright issues because it is not hosting the content but embedding from YouTube. The legality of this is complex, affected by many factors: is the copyright owner authorized to upload to the original service, e.g., to YouTube; has the copyright owner authorized the content to be embedded and shared; is the content legal where it will be viewed; is the content uploaded or just embedded; and where geographically is the content hosted?

While you (or synchtube) might not be uploading or hosting the content, a case might be made you were helping “distribute” it, a kind of secondary infringement. The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) has been quite aggressive in pursuing copyright offenders—notably the Pirate Bay—and was a major supporter of the recently failed Stop Online Piracy Act. If the MPAA were to sue anyone, common sense says it would be the person who uploaded the content to YouTube, not the synchtube service or the person creating the synchtube room. YouTube and synchtube, hosted in the US[1], qualify as “safe harbors” under the US’s Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). As service providers and not content contributors, they are therefore free from liability provided they commit to removing any infringing content once notified. Synchtube confirmed they have not had any legal problems since inception, nor do they expect any, precisely because they are not hosting the content.

Pragmatically, YouTube is physically hosting the content and no copies are being made or distributed by synchtube in the site’s basic operation. Synchtube merely provides a link—a very enhanced link but essentially a link. YouTube’s Terms of Service sections 6 and 7 specifically cover copyright and content. The uploader in uploading is saying they have the rights to distribute the content and are responsible for any consequences of posting or publishing it. Section 8 outlines rights the uploader grants YouTube including the rights to access and “perform” the content throughout the world and through any media channels using any functionality of the service. That covers using YouTube’s embedded content elsewhere.

Logically, the above should have been enough to cover your butt, even where you strongly suspected the original uploader did not have the rights to the material. In practice, media organizations find it expedient and profitable to fire off “cease and desist” letters. Most individuals, upon receiving a scary notice from the MPAA or similar organizations, just remove any offending content and/or quietly pay any suggested fines because they believe they cannot afford to defend themselves in court. As a defense, the argument outlined here therefore had not tested, resulting in a legal grey area.

The court ruled Thursday that embedding a video that infringes on copyrighted material is not a violation of copyright law. For example, if I found an episode of The Simpsons on YouTube that I thought was really nifty and I embedded it in my blog, I wouldn’t be violating any copyright laws even if the person who uploaded the video to YouTube ripped it straight from The Simpsons’ season 3 DVD. It would be the person who put the video on YouTube who was breaking the law, not me.[2]

That changed this August in Flava Works, Inc. v. Gunter. While this case was not an identical scenario, it shared some similar facets: bookmarking or linking, embedding of third-party hosted copyrighted video content, and viewing said content. Judge Posner of the US Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals made some interesting rulings[3]. The first is that embedding a video infringing upon copyrighted material does not violate copyright law. The person who uploaded the video to YouTube is infringing but the service, acting as a communications conduit, without making any copies, is not aiding infringement nor infringing itself. A second relevant finding is that watching an embedded infringing video is not contributory infringement. In other words, Posner’s ruling says using and watching synchtube is not copyright infringement even where the original YouTube content infringes.

The above case is only relevant in the US and even then not countrywide, although it creates a promising precedent. I am not a lawyer and this article does not constitute legal advice, of course, especially as multiple countries’ copyright laws are involved. Nevertheless, synchtube does not seem to be in any imminent danger of legal problems, nor are they expecting any. If you are concerned, you may prefer to avoid including content in your synchtube room whose legality or authenticity is suspect.

Lovely Legal Content

What about content? Your room page has a box in the lower left corner to create a playlist of content. You can queue up any number of short pieces or long pieces. You can share music, videos, or flickr images. The choice is yours. YouTube, Vimeo, Slideshare, Imgur, Justin.tv, Twitch.tv (gamers, for the win!), Soundcloud, USTREAM, LiveStream, Blip.tv, and Dailymotion are currently supported. Just click the “Add” button to show the “Add to Playlist via URL” field and paste in the content’s address, e.g., https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YOSWA9OBjls for Plan 9 from Outer Space. You will be notified if synchtube cannot work with the content.

Sites like publicdomainmovies.info have collected links to thousands of movies in the public domain[4] across many genres. On YouTube, there are channels specializing in public domain cult and B films, like Mez Meric’s Drive-In of Doom. Open Culture compiled a list of 500 free movies online, including classics, film noir, westerns, and comedy. Their article also includes a list of source sites. There is a lot of choice out there for good stuff while still remaining 100% legal.

Being Together

As described so far, synchtube seems like a great tool to address boredom issues, improve morale, and encourage some bonding among fleet members. Any in-game activity that requires waiting is a good candidate. Several were mentioned already to which corporate mining operations, gate camps, and hanging out in systems with your cloaked friends could easily be added. For the latter, not only can you pass the time with your friends but you can also give your victims an invitation via Local.

Synchtube, however, has so much more potential. The savvy corporation or alliance could also use it for other purposes, like training or building spirit. For example, pick out some classic video encounters from this year’s Alliance Tournament X to illustrate where, why, and how things went well, with everyone watching together. Use voice comms to provide the commentary and pause the video as needed to make points. If the official CCP Games videos do not appeal because they contain commentary already, searching YouTube for “eve” and some battle or alliance of interest will likely turn up many fan-made battle encounter videos, such as those uploaded by Rooks and Kings. Alternatively, you can roll your own by using the best-of-breed Fraps or the Open Source CamStudio (both for Windows) to record your own game battles and save them as YouTube-compatible AVI files that you can then upload and use with synchtube. Our very own Alikchi posted some tips recently on making video recordings.

Here are some ideas for building corporate spirit: have contests where members submit homemade videos on a given theme and watch them together or have the corporation band together to make the next Clear Skies epic. Or perhaps take clips from existing films, mute the sound (or use foreign language clips), and have teams improvise dialogue for the action. The site supports embedding USTREAM content as well, so you could stream a live event, like your corporation’s room at Fanfest or attendance at Fanfest panels, with a shared chat room for members unable to attend.

Other services, like Google’s Hangouts, could be similarly employed but sometimes in more limited situations. Google Hangouts, for example, makes it easy to share your screen but not to share specific content while you are doing something else, like watching for bad guys. It is also limited for most people to 15 simultaneous participants. Hangouts are therefore good when you want to broadcast yourself, perhaps for corporation meetings, but not so good for sharing existing media for many people. watch2gether.com is similar to synchtube except it does not require any registration and the interface and help are more polished. However, it only supports YouTube videos and it is hosted in Germany, so the previous discussion about legality may not apply. Synchtube’s biggest strengths lie in its simplicity, breadth of media platforms supported, and number of concurrent users.

Learning Together

Why would you want to bother making and sharing your own content in these simultaneous sessions? In terms of learning, the primary advantage seems obvious: anything that facilitates analysis of good play and bad play will benefit the play of your fleet commanders and your players. If it is examining a battle where your team has been completed welped, then the more people look at something, the more likely it is someone will notice a critical flaw or a series of circumstances that you as a team can then design a strategy to overcome. If you are looking at someone else’s play then perhaps it is figuring out what aspects made that team triumphant. In either case, the discussion and analysis will spark additional ideas.

This process functions especially well when participants are encouraged to be actively reflective, connecting their existing knowledge and experience to new ideas—something interactive dialogue can assist. This builds on the principles of what learning researchers call “social learning” or “connectivism”. These are two different learning theories but they share some common themes. Firstly, knowledge is something embodied in the network and connections of the group. Secondly, the act of participating creates new knowledge. This type of learning, a learning that aligns with your community’s ethos, strengthens your community’s identity—whether that community is a corporation, an alliance, or a coalition. Even if you do not understand these learning theories, they are a good thing for learning and community spirit building. People who participate and have a say in these learning situations both learn and feel a sense of ownership and belonging. You are making and maintaining a community of practice together.

Synchtube is therefore not just a great tool to counteract boredom, but also a fantastic tool to help your group learn and to forge community spirit. Note that synchtube will not magically do all this on its own. If you want people to learn or you want to build spirit then you need to design experiences that will accomplish those ends. That usually means some advance preparation and thought about what you want to achieve and a concerted effort to solicit participation. With so many supported media types, your creativity and ability are the major limiting factors. Synchtube is your oyster with all kinds of possibilities to play and to learn together. What will you do?

Footnotes

    1. A site’s rough geographic location can be determined by examining its domain name information. Start by obtaining the whois data. Next, map the address www.synchtube.com to its corresponding numeric server addresses, confirming the results are associated with Cloudflare.com, the authoritative name servers from the whois. That gives two IP addresses: 199.27.134.44 and 173.245.60.122. A geolocation IP mapping service finds these are both located in California: 1st IP location and 2nd IP location.  ↩

    2. Johnson, T. (2012). ‘Court rules that embedding a video is not copyright infringement’. Geekosystem blog entry posted August 3. Available from: http://www.geekosystem.com/embedding-video-copyright-infringement/ (Accessed December 7, 2012). This is a very understandable layperson’s explanation of the judgement’s salient points.  ↩

    3. Download the full ruling from the 7th Circuit Appeal site. See also discussions at TechDirt and Eric Goldman.  ↩

    4. These are usually public domain from a US copyright perspective. It may vary in your own country; however, since it is being streamed from a US host, this is likely either legal or low risk.  ↩

Eingang
I am a virtual worlds researcher focussing on adult learning and communities of practice within MMOGs. I examine EVE through multiple lenses: as a researcher, as a new EVE universe participant, and as an experienced gamer. I'm @Eingang on Twitter.