Islamic Conferences: Controlling Video Content or Openly Releasing It?

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An incident recently occurred online where a particular Islamic scholar’s video went viral. The only problem was it was uploaded to an unauthorized account.

This creates a dilemma on the administrative side – allow the unauthorized content to be published, or take it down?

The truth is this problem should never have occurred in the first place. It’s impossible now to fully control your content. Even with advanced algorithms, copyrighted material gets posted online all the time.

Let’s first cover the ideal way an organization should operate, and then look at how to respond to these situations.

Ideal Scenario

Understand the medium. Things like conferences are mainstream events that are meant for public consumption. They are not the same as a private class. The audience usually consists of thousands of people. It is inevitable that people will post the talk.

An organization’s goal should be to have an online platform so large that it doesn’t matter what anyone else posts. When people come googling the name of your conference or the speaker, an official presence should be the first thing that pops up. Along with that, for these types of public talks, your organization should take the initiative to go ahead and post them before anyone else. Even if you are a little late, it is ok because it’s expected that your official video will be in HD with clear audio – i.e. substantially better quality such that no one will watch the video anywhere else.

In the long run this reinforces your organization’s presence, marketing, and branding. It also lets the audience connect with you more, which is the name of the game in the social media age. It takes a change in understanding what you charge for as well. In the case of a conference, people pay for the experience more than they pay for actual content. Posting the material online won’t hurt your numbers, in fact, it will probably make even more people excited about attending your next event.

I should emphasize that what I’ve written here is specific to Islamic conventions (i.e. not classes or seminars).

How to Respond

I have no problem with an organization sending down a take-down notice if they plan to republish the content later (whether for free or for sale). But you have to keep in mind that it can become a game of cat and mouse where you are constantly looking for people posting your material without permission. If you don’t have a reputation of publishing or selling your material in a timely manner, people who were moved by a certain talk will do what they can to spread it.

In a situation like this it’s important to quickly own your own platform. Let people know that you’re working on releasing it, or when to expect to be able to buy a video. Otherwise, if you work to just keep removing it, others will become that much more motivated to keep spreading it.

See: Streisand Effect.

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Omar Usman is a founding member of MuslimMatters, Qalam Institute, Muslim Strategic Initiative, and Debt Free Muslims. He is a regular khateeb and has served in different administrative capacities in various national and local Islamic organizations. He works full time in the corporate field, is a PMP, and certified Leadership Trainer through the John Maxwell Team. You can follow him on on Twitter @ibnabeeomar, and check out his latest project - The Fiqh of Social Media.

Omar UsmanIslamic Conferences: Controlling Video Content or Openly Releasing It?

7 Comments on “Islamic Conferences: Controlling Video Content or Openly Releasing It?”

  1. syamira

    Salam.

    RIS has been hosting the convention for 13 years without this kind of issue. It’s known to RIS goers/fans that they release the videos gradually and not all to public through their channel RIStalks/ RIS Multimedia. Some we have to pay for it, because it’s such a quality. Most videos will only be released close to the event date the next year as a promo.

    Also, to release it so soon will be very unfair to people like me who paid to watch the live streaming, Not only that, many stream from all over the world adjusting their timing, for instance I streamed from Malaysia, the time difference is 13 hours and I have to stay up all night long to watch all the talks.

    Someone unethical recorded the livestreaming and publish it to the public once RIS is concluded. I wouldn’t have paid and stayed up for the convention if the talks will be posted that soon.

    I hope you can see from this perspective also. Live streamers do not pay for the ‘experience’, we obviously pay for the actual content.

    Thank you.

    1. Omar Usman

      excellent comment and perspective on the issue, jazakallahu khayr.

      my suggestion to the organizers in this case would be to immediately sell the lecture online, even if it’s at a premium price (i.e. more than livestreaming cost). it all comes back to owning the platform and knowing the expectations of the audience. from an organizational point of view, it’s important to understand that when something goes viral (as this talk did), that it has a short half-life and must be capitalized on quickly. to keep the content inaccessible – even to people who are willing to pay for it, would be a disservice.

  2. SaqibSaab

    Tricky situation. There are clearly two sides, which I’ll lay out, then my thoughts.

    Side One
    – It’s intellectual property. It belongs to the organization.
    – Ripping the stream and uploading to an unauthorized account without permission is illegal since the posters are not the owners. To say it was “the only problem” trivializes the act. I say this as someone who’s produced similar content and understand the pain of seeing someone jack it.
    – Not fair to the patrons who paid for the product/service that is the streaming pass (like Syamira’s comment)
    – Some organizations are only conferences, so all revenue is coming for speeches only. This may take away from that revenue.
    – There are strategic, planned, release schedules for sessions that are set by marketing teams, and this disrupts all of that.

    Side Two:
    – All of what you said above
    – Expounding on the whole “experience” part of conferences, part of the experience is in the social aspect of the conference. That’s what you get that a YouTube video won’t get you.
    – We live in the age of instant. Don’t stream and think that your feed is not going to be ripped. Like Omar says, you should be at the forefront, and if you are, no one will even pirate.

    My take, these organizations should do some serious analytics of their viewership of online material. Is all the clamoring down on the piracy really hurting their projections for revenue? There are people that will go for the experience regardless. By putting up the lectures online, are you afraid the in-person attendance will go down? Or are you afraid your online subscription revenues will suffer?

    If it’s the online revenue you don’t want to be affect, I understand. And I have an ideaa I have that I feel can go very far: crowd source the lectures.

    Determine how much money you wanna make off of online viewers, set a reasonable price, then get the masses to “purchase” them all by reaching the goal. Tell us the funds will go to the costs of providing the conference and lectures overall, assign a portion of proceeds to charity, and go. Pretty sure you’ll get funding pretty darn fast.

    That way, you are the forefront of the content, you can cut off live feeds (stinks there’s no live, but the ones willing to listen live will be willing to listen to recordings, too, I would imagine) thereby eliminating piracy, and you’ll make the money you want to make.

  3. Saqib

    That, and organizations should make the in-person non-speech related experience of their conferences really stand out. That way, it fulfills customer retention and encourages new attendance.

  4. Basil Mohamed Gohar

    I have extremely strong feelings and opinions on this matter, but I will try very hard to explain them in the most reasonable way. I think the perspectives that have come out in just the few comments above as well as the original post cover the topic well. I will do my best to explain what I have seen, from my experience working as both a content producer, facilitator, and distributor, all in different angles of the process and at different times in my life. My perspective, however, has more-or-less always been the same.

    For starters, from the perspective of a content producer or event organizer, when so much time, work, and effort has been put into a program, and one (whether it’s an individual, group, or entire organization) has their own plan for the distribution of their own content, having someone subvert that can be, as already described, a painful experience, and can even been seen as downright disrespectful. This can become even more strained by the fact that content is seen many times as one of the means of recouping costs of the program or event after that fact, as ticket sales and other revenue streams do not always cover the costs of the event.

    From my experience, I can appreciate this perspective and how people got to it, but it is also fundamentally flawed. Omar and Saqib have already covered some of the fundamental reasons why this really cannot work. For starters, it’s impossible to enforce to any effective degree. We should all have seen this with industries far stronger and more organized than any Islamic institution – e.g., the RIAA and the MPAA. Adopting their failed tactics of an iron-grip on content only does one or more of the following things:

    1. Restrict the audience of people that can actually benefit from your content, either because the limit channels of distribution cannot reach them for legal, compatibility, financial, or other unforeseen reasons.
    2. Inspire people on crusades to crack whatever means of protection you’ve placed on your content, leading the ones releasing it to be hailed as heroes, because they circumvented the restrictions preventing some potential audience from benefiting from your content.
    3. Add to your production and distribution overhead significantly.
    4. Allow your own content and distribution methods to be superceded by others’ whose restrictions are lighter or non-existent, and who make their content openly accessible, as they embrace the channels through which people are already using for their other media interests.

    For people in the “business of Islam”, that is to say, they really only involve themselves in the money matter and see it as just a revenue stream, it will be hard to argue some of the points above, because they may not yield concrete profits to them. But I don’t think that is the case for most of the well-known cases, and what’s really wanted is to maximize benefit for the Ummah. The twisted part is that, a combination of confusion about the medium and old-school mentalities contribute to the idea that restricting how people can consume your content will somehow yield a higher-quality product with more benefit to all.

    As Shaykh Muhammad Alshareef mentioned years ago in the Fiqh ad-Dawah class, part of building a brand includes that you make sure you give your people that highest quality stuff. No matter what, a knock-off is a knock-off. People will want to get things from the source. If you ensure that you are the channel of delivery for that, no one else can beat you, even if you straight-up copy what you are delivering bit-for-bit.

    But if you make that difficult, such as wrapping it in DRM, releasing it only on a single platform (e.g., only on Apple-devices or only an Apple-app), or choosing a limited release schedule (live streaming only from this time to this time), you have explicitly cut people out. No amount of quality delivery can compensate for the audience whom you unnecessarily left out for some arbitrary marketing standard.

    The other fatal flaw that exists is tying revenue to the control of your digital content. One need look only at some of the most famous and successful Islamic workers out there. That’s not to say counter examples don’t exist, but the free access to their content in unrestricted quality and distribution is amongst one of the main factors that contributed to their popularity. Embracing the power of the crowd to do the marketing work for you is undeniably effective, and is impossible to properly utilize if you attempt to control it via restrictions. Audio, video, and other communications mediums have always been natural marketing tools. Attempting to subvert their nature in this manner will yield all that is being talked about above and worse.

    I am probably at the risk of either reaching the comment limit or subverting this very post with my comment, so I’ll stop here, but I’m really glad that it was brought up and that I could get the notification. Jazaakum Allaahu khayran for broaching this subject.

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