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YouTube will let some users charge for rentals

Partners in YouTube's existing revenue-sharing program will soon be able to use an automated tool to charge for rentals.

YouTube's fledgling movie rental program will soon be taking an interesting twist: some content owners will soon be able to use a "self service" tool to charge for access to their videos, product manager Hunter Walk said this week in an interview with MediaPost.

Few details are currently available--none about revenue sharing, none regarding what kind of flexibility content owners will have over pricing, and no final timetable--but it's an interesting move on behalf of YouTube parent company Google, as it competes with Apple and Netflix for the growing online-video rental market.

YouTube first delved into rentals with a test in conjunction with the Sundance Film Festival. That, in connection with the company's development of an automated rental program, further suggests that the company is hoping to get a foothold with the creators of low-budget or niche films that may slip through the cracks at Apple's iTunes Store or Netflix's instant-watch menu.

Will ordinary users be able to participate and charge for rentals? It looks like the tool will only be available to approved partners--the owners of popular or professionally created videos who are already splitting ad revenue with Google.

We're sure that your cat is very cute, but YouTube does not yet have plans to allow you to charge for access to "Fluffy Gets Stuck in the Dishwasher," and likewise, opening up the floodgates to the YouTube masses could result in some unsavory "Pay $2 and watch me dance" business models. That's somewhere that Google probably doesn't want to tread.

More importantly, keeping a tight lid on just who can use a self-service charging system will ideally keep away concerns that people might be profiting off of unauthorized content. Piracy issues, after all, continue to plague Google and YouTube in the courtroom.

UPDATE (4:50 p.m. PT on Sunday): YouTube partners are already able to charge for rentals to their content, per the initial YouTube rentals program that came out in January. It looks like the self-service tool will just make this existing process more streamlined.