The YouTube Gurus

How a couple of regular guys built a company that changed the way we see ourselves

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MICHAEL GRECCO FOR TIME

Chad Hurley, Steve Chen and hundreds of the videos that helped turn YouTube into a sensation.

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In an e-mail, Cuban pointed out a contradiction in YouTube's position: "They are spending a ton of money to license content. Which makes me curious. Why license if all that content is viable under [federal law]? And when does the licensing ever end--won't everyone want [to get] paid? Even the personal videos of cats?"

Eric Schmidt, Google's CEO, told me his company had hired an outside firm to help it analyze YouTube's legal risks. "And we concluded that Mark Cuban's arguments were false. We read them, by the way. We just think he's false. Copyright law, the safe-harbor provisions--it works, as long as we do a good job of takedown"--quickly removing videos whenever copyright holders ask.

It's hard to imagine Chad and Steve sitting through endless meetings on safe-harbor laws. They're too young, too creative and--in Steve's case, at least--too peripatetic. They usually demur on questions of what they will do next, blandly stating their hopes to "improve the product," as Chad puts it. But Levchin, their former boss at PayPal, says, "The essential crisis is coming. They better get ready. And the essential crisis for an entrepreneur is, What is this all about? Did I just make the most money in my life ever? For what purpose? And ... am I going to start setting up my family office and manage my investments, or am I going to jump off another roof and hope there's a parachute?"

Which is a very old question indeed, one all newly wealthy people face when the market rewards them. Chad and Steve don't yet have an answer. They may have built a website that changed the online world in 2006, but they are still learning when to leave the party. •

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