Space Ramblings

The Viacom YouTube wars go on

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif., April 30 — Responding to Viacom’s $1 billion copyright infringement suit over video clips on YouTube, Google said Monday that it would not back off, declaring that the law was on its side.

The 1998 law “balances the rights of copyright holders and the need to protect the Internet as an important new form of communication,” Google said in its filing. “By seeking to make carriers and hosting providers liable for Internet communications, Viacom’s complaint threatens the way hundreds of millions of people legitimately exchange information, news, entertainment, and political and artistic expression.”

The problem is just how much is YouTube knowingly profiting from constant copyright violations on its site. It’s pretty hard to deny that large amounts of YouTube’s content is copyright to someone else. YouTube’s occasional purges of copyright violating content of course make it impossible to determine just what proportion of its content consists of episodes of tv shows, entire movies and music videos. But the reality is that a large reason for YouTube’s popularity is content created by people other than its users.

Productions like Chad Vader are still the exception as far as YouTube is concerned. Few people have the resources and energy to really produce a quality web series. Instead most of them simply upload, mash up and remix copyrighted material. Whether that’s right or wrong– YouTube certainly knows what’s going on and profits from it.

YouTube is not simply a host as Google claims, but is actively profiting from the copyright violations. Especially since ads on the site are targeted to specific videos. Someone viewing a pirated copy of A Beautiful Mind is likely to see adsense ads offering a DVD copy of the movie for sale.

In recent weeks, Google’s chief executive, Eric E. Schmidt, has said that the company will soon unveil new tools that will make it easier for copyright owners to spot their content on YouTube. Mr. Schmidt had said that those tools, to be called Claim Your Content, will make Viacom’s complaint moot.

Which is the same kind of arrogance that keeps getting Google into messes in the first place. The key issue isn’t Viacom spotting its content. I have no great sympathy for Viacom, but it would take an entire department to sit and constantly call for the deletion of the same clips, that a user will just reupload a day later under another account. Viacom can spot their content already in under 5 minutes. Previously YouTube had promised that they could and would spot the content themselves. For now there isn’t even a quick way for users to report copyright violations and that appears to be exactly what YouTube wants.

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