Copyright Or Wrong

24 06 2010

I tell ya, this whole internet thing has opened up a few enormous cans of worms. Who owns the stuff that people post? And who is responsible for enforcing copyrights?

Nearly a decade ago, Napster was shut down by court order because it provided a playground for folks to share MP3 files. The RIAA then proceeded to sue everyone from 8-year-old kids to grandmas, all because they willfully posted songs in a place where others could download for their own use.

But in a court ruling yesterday, it seems there is a new twist in the interpretation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. A U.S. District Court tossed out Viacom’s $1 billion suit against Google/YouTube, arguing that Google was not responsible for content its users post to the site. Every minute a full 24 hours of video is uploaded to YouTube, making policing a near impossibility. The judge ruled that, in effect, it was up to Viacom to constantly monitor YouTube (and the entire internet) to see if people are illegally posting their copyrighted material.

Good news for Google, bad news for Viacom.

The judge also said that this model is perfectly workable, citing a 2007 instance in which Viacom identified 100,000 of its copyrighted files on YouTube, which YouTube then removed.

Still, the tone is very different today than it was in 2001. Sure, the purpose behind YouTube is mostly just to watch, rather than download for personal use (although this is amazingly simple using the Safari browser on a Mac). Today, most people no longer care about actually owning the file (music or video). It’s more about simply being able to access it when you want it. With broadband and smartphones, Pandora, and even legally purchased songs on iTunes, the original Napster model is irrelevant today.

But if companies now have to enforce copyright, we must face facts: Viacom is a huge company with the internal resources to scan the web for scofflaws. Little guys don’s have a chance. Furthermore, the judge has sided with all web site repositories of such materials, saying that al are not able to or responsible for checking for that nagging copyright. But Google/YouTube could certainly come closer than many of the smaller sites. Still, even Google is off the hook.

Which means that if you are the copyright holder for anything, you’d better be prepared to protect it. Because you aren’t going to get any help from the courts.

Dr “Time To Get That Shotgun” Gerlich


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