Balanchine Trust puts pressure on the Ketinoa ballet channel on YouTube, and the Tube shuts the whole massive thing down

While we’re waiting for the New York Times to do some investigating on the Balanchine Trust’s role in the shutting down of a 1300-video ballet archive on YouTube (nudge, nudge), here’s Foot contributor Paul Parish, from the Bay Area:

Hey Apollinaire —

I don’t know how upsetting you find this action, but it’s really big if you ask me. I went to that archive all the time and studied there for hours at a shot.

Linda at The Ballet Bag wrote an article Sept 2 which begins:

The YouTube Ketinoa channel contained over 1300 videos of Mariinsky & Bolshoi ballets, including extracts of rehearsals, Vaganova Academy examinations, class syllabus, new and vintage performances. Steering clear of the issue of who owns the copyright, [I’ll say this channel] served as a film archive accessible to anyone wishing to further educate themselves or simply to enjoy great ballet extracts, with user comments largely praising its content. Last month it was suspended because it was found to contain a small subset of copyright protected videos featuring ballets by Balanchine. The claim was submitted on behalf of the Balanchine Trust, the body in charge of protecting the legacy of that choreographer. Assuming the channel owner received a notification asking for immediate removal of the offending videos, if he/she complied then the account could be re-activated, provided offending videos were not re-uploaded. But YouTube could also have pre-emptively suspended the account without notice to protect itself from any potential lawsuit, in compliance with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (US), which seems to have been the case with the Ketinoa channel, based on claims by ongoing campaigns to save it.

I first found out about this on Ballet Talk, but as I was composing my thoughts I found myself thinking I should send them to you for Foot.

My immediate personal reaction is that this is a disaster — Ketinoa’s channel!%$ NO! Unbelievable treasury of dance. It’s like having the Library of Alexandria go up in flames.

OK, that’s an exaggeration, but still, WHAT a collection!!!! And it was like the town library — we could all use it.

There’s certainly plenty to think about here.

First of all, maybe Ketinoa’s channel could go back up if the Balanchine material (as danced by the Kirov) is taken down. The Kirov, Bolshoi, etc., are not restricted by American copyright laws, and the bulk of the material is Vaganova or Messerer instruction, theory, practice, etc., so it could all be calmed down.

But it is academic dance, and it’s not just a pun to say there are principles of academic freedom involved. Is Ketinoa’s channel protected under principles of academic freedom? Or rather, should it be? The dance world has languished so long without libraries, and the rise of video was just beginning to allow dance to be studied like literature, so you could study it and quote accurately, and the autodidact or amateur outside the academy was becoming almost as well informed as some professors. Though it was happening outside a university setting, the growth of serious dance culture was happening in the West rather like the scientific societies of the 18th century, when professional procedures had not yet been codified but people were making collections and study was becoming possible on an unprecedented scale — and Ketinoa’s channel was at the top of the heap for providing the core commentaries and syllabi.

Intellectual property issues are morphing rapidly. Commercial institutions with a financial interest have armies of lawyers pushing for their views, while the public interest has no virtually trained advocates. So what we see is rather like the rapid growth of pro-slavery theory in the old South, which was negligible in 1820 and full-fledged ideology by 1860: right now, intellectual property thought is being pushed by corporations trying to protect their trade secrets, licenses, and royalties.

Intellectual freedom used to be defended primarily against HUAC, against government encroachment, and against religious intolerance, but now the enemy of free exchange of ideas is capitalist NGOs. There are many ways in which the scholarly pursuits come into conflict with corporate interests — for example, a cartel of publishers has got a stranglehold on scholarly journals and raised the cost of subscriptions through the roof — to wit, a -one-year subscription to the Journal of Nuclear Physics costs as much as a BMW. [Ed. note: Yeah, but isn’t this partly because so few people read them and Bush reduced the funding on science research etc., so that the journals aren’t subsidized anymore?] (Side note: universities are right now having to defend against being turned into research and development institutions, and the causes of Liberal Arts is almost sunk since it doesn’t even turn up on the radar of quantifiable value added.) [Ed. note: Yes, for the same reasons, I think, as the rising cost of journals.]

YouTube used to be thought of as an extension of first-amendment freedoms to express yourself — publish yourself, whatever you want so long as it’s decent. So it was mostly thought of as individualist. But there’s also always been a social dimension to the internet. It was developed as a multicentered web first of all to assure the defense of the United States against attack so that if the “capita” were taken out there’d be other “heads” still able to think and communicate. And in many ways it’s created communities of interest that have informal but in fact very tough bonds among members widely geographically scattered.

The issues for dance seem like a fascinating version of those facing all the arts and the sciences. Engineers are now having to face the kind of stunning disrespect the arts suffered 30 years ago…. Librarians are up against it — can a cartel really fix the price of an academic journal? If so, the articles contained in it are on their way to being considered trade secrets…. Where does capitalism conflict with the public interest? Are there no limits?

Am I letting my rhetoric run away with me?

Do you think Ketinoa’s channel is important? Not just in itself, but in the larger issues concerning the life of the mind?

You’re a teacher — what do YOU think? What do you see happening?


Hi, Paul,
Very briefly here (because, yeah, I’m a teacher and I have a load of essays to respond to tonight), yes, I think Ketinoa and its ilk are really important and, as a couple of us discussed a few years ago (scroll down to second comment, from Griffin), the Balanchine Trust’s approach is outdated.

They are shooting ballet in the foot to not let people have any access to these Balanchine recordings. YouTube is how everyone under 40–and a lot of us over– tries out new things. I use YouTube all the time in my classroom, and it’s incredibly useful for giving my students a taste of something not otherwise available. At the start of the term, we’d read Pauline Kael’s short essay on the first time she saw de Sica’s Shoeshine; the movie isn’t in print in the States, but some angel had uploaded it to YouTube! Did the students love it? No, but they liked it enough to watch it on their own–all the way through. And next time they watch an “old” movie, as they put it, maybe they’ll like it a bit more.

I think we’re at this bad moment vis-a-vis the internet where companies are taking stringent measures after not knowing how to take any measures at all. An example from the music-sharing world is that grad student, I think he was, in Boston who got fined $168,000 this summer for downloading a tune. The idea was he’d serve as an example to the rest of us freeloaders.

I hope some compromise is reached, in cost and/or availability. But it’s not likely unless the compromise serves profits–or whatever else is at stake. If for the Balanchine Trust, the issue is that they don’t want people performing the ballets without a license, this is foolish too. It’s GOOD when a dance enters the culture: someone looking for the latest dance virus ends up stumbling on Edward Villella and incorporates some “move” of his into their own vocabulary. That’s how culture is meant to grow and morph. And god knows they won’t call it Balanchine–they don’t want to be found out any more than that Boston grad student did–and it won’t hurt Balanchine’s rep or the ballet audience or the Balanchine ballets. Shakespeare monkeys didn’t make Shakespeare any less popular. In fact, the opposite. And they didn’t make Shakespeare any less good. 

It sounds like the Balanchine Trust really played the heavy if YouTube responded by taking all 1300 videos down. (If anyone knows exactly how this Ketinoa flameout occurred, and what the Balanchine Trust’s role in it was, we would love to know. And/or the NY Times dance people should be jumping on this story.)

Thanks for this, Paul.

Everyone, you can write to to complain….

For some thoughts on how intellectual property rights have changed since Thomas Jefferson, what stealing has to do with making art, and what Balanchine might have thought of Youtube, a new post.

And for a legal perspective on why it might be necessary for the Balanchine Trust and other organizations of its size and stature to play policeman, here’s info I gleaned from a Tendu TV exec.

But first for your edification: Miss Piggy and Nureyev on YouTube!

~ Apollinaire

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