Everyone knows about YouTube. That’s the nifty little website that allows it’s registered users to post short videos that may or may not be of interest to other users. It was created in February 2005 and in November 2006, was purchased by online giant Google, with a whopping price tag of $1.65 billion. Folks, that is no small chump change, so you know Google, with it’s razor sharp focus on making money, felt it would be a profitable deal for them. They would not have been willing to lay down that much cash or capital otherwise.
YouTube really came into it’s own during the 2008 campaign for the White House. Many, many videos were distributed through their site, some of them political ads and some of them campaign speeches. One thing for sure, it’s hard for anyone to escape their words when they have been posted on YouTube, for anyone who cares to watch and listen. Personally, I think that is a good thing and I believe it can be used as a powerful tool for a politician to spread their values and beliefs, ie. how they stand on the issues.
Also popular on YouTube are older TV shows that have broken down into short segments and it seems, some that are not so old. Five months after Google announced it was buying YouTube, Viacom filed a lawsuit against Google and the video website, claiming $1 billion in damages for copyright infringement. This lawsuit stemmed from the fact that many videos had been posted to YouTube from several of Viacom’s cable networks. From Market Watch, here is a summary of that lawsuit.
Viacom’s suit also illustrates the difficulty Google and YouTube have had in reaching licensing deals with entertainment companies whose videos appear on the site. Viacom had been in negotiations with Google to license its content, it said, but talks have since ended. Also, a long-awaited extensive licensing deal with CBS has not come to fruition.
To a large degree, the suit was telegraphed. Earlier this year Viacom demanded that YouTube remove from its site 100,000 video clips from programs that appear on Viacom networks, including Nickelodeon, MTV and Comedy Central channels.
The request was the largest such demand YouTube faced from a single copyright owner, and the Web site complied with the request within a week.
Viacom also has taken a financial stake in Joost, a YouTube rival co-founded by the same executives who sold Skype to eBay Inc. for about $2.5 billion. Viacom and Joost signed a licensing agreement last month to distribute video content from Viacom networks Comedy Central and MTV over the Internet.
In the YouTube suit, Viacom alleges the upstart Web site has in the past hosted 160,000 of its videos without permission, which have been viewed 1.5 billion times.
The videos cited in the complaint comprise the 100,000 clips that had been already removed, and 60,000 others that Viacom also discovered on the site.
According to the suit, YouTube is a willing participant in the copyright infringement. It lets users add YouTube videos to their own sites, further making it difficult for copyright owners to track down unauthorized uses of their material.
Meanwhile, YouTube users can also “share” videos only among a select group of friends or acquaintances, again hampering efforts by copyright holders.
YouTube limits results of any search to 1,000 items. While that might suffice for smaller providers of video entertainment, many of whom have signed licensing deals with YouTube, Viacom contends that amount represents less than 1% of its videos.
In a nutshell, Viacom doesn’t want anyone using their content for any purpose, unless they have an agreement beforehand. I can see their point of view, as that content is how they make their money and provide a profit for their shareholders. On the other hand, Google has argued that it has immunity, as long as it promptly removes any copyright infringements that are brought to it’s attention, with Facebook, eBay, and Yahoo weighing in on their side. This, because of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998, which effectively puts the burden of copyright enforcement onto the plantive. In other words, YouTube has to do nothing about copyright infringement until the owner of the material points it out and asks them to remove it. I am not sure I agree with that, but that is the way it presently stands.
This lawsuit has been in progress since March 2007 and it has resulted in a bevy of legal filings, with lawyers from both parties jockeying for position. Viacom claims that internal emails from YouTube show that they were fully aware of the copyright infringements that were on the site. Google has claimed that Viacom has posted some of it’s own content on YouTube for promotional purposes. Back and forth they have went, until today. Again, from Market Watch:
Judge Louis Stanton wrote in a 30-page ruling filed in New York on Wednesday that Google qualifies for so-called “safe harbor,” and is therefore granted summary judgment that it’s protected against Viacom’s “claims for direct and secondary copyright infringement.”
Judge Stanton has basically dismissed the lawsuit, although Viacom has said it will appeal to the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals. For all intents and purposes, the case may be over, unless it is overturned by a higher court.
To be honest, I have mixed feelings about this ruling. I think I understand both sides of the argument; Viacom wants/needs to protect their source of income, ie. their content, and Google wants to provide as much content as they can to their users, thereby increasing their own income through advertising. In the midst of this, there is a third issue to consider. Namely that of the freedom we have to use and share content on the Internet. As a blogger, that freedom is very important to me and one that I do not take lightly. That is why I always cite my sources and give credit where credit is due. Of course, Political Realities is very much a non-profit blog, as I do not allow advertising and intend to keep it that way.
That is not the case with Google and YouTube. I have no problem with the fact that they are in business to make money, as that is how any economy works. If they do not make money, they can not continue to operate. Should that give them the freedom to use whatever content they can and only remove it when someone complains? I would think not, but for the time being, the courts have came down in their favor. At the very least, this should give us all something to think about and to ponder, in this age of ever increasing information and technology.