Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Viacom and Google Pick Up the Gloves, Again

They’re back!

Viacom and Google, who have been tangling over copyright violations at YouTube since 2007, will be at it again today at a federal courthouse in New York. The two sides will start oral arguments for Viacom’s appeal of the case, which Google won decisively in a 2010 ruling.

In the past, both sides have tried digging up evidence to discredit each others’ arguments, and while both came up with plenty of embarrassing stuff, they couldn’t find a smoking gun.

So now we’re back to the basic question of the case: How much protection does the Digital Millennium Copyright Act offer YouTube, or any other site that lets users upload and distribute content they don’t own?

That question has come up to the courts in at least three different suits in recent years: Viacom versus Google, Universal Music Group versus Veoh, and EMI versus MP3Tunes. And in all three cases, federal judges have offered up the same response: The DMCA gives Web sites enormous latitude. As long as the site serves a legitimate function, it can’t be held responsible if users upload stuff they don’t own. If copyright owners find something that shouldn’t be there, and they ask the site to take the offending piece down, the site has to comply. But that’s about it.

So far, that’s very encouraging news for all manner of digerati. And in theory, it’s quite threatening to media companies and other people who create, finance and distribute intellectual property for a living.

But things might not be quite so dire for the media guys. While you can read the recent court rulings as an invitation for a free-for-all, it looks a little different in the real world.

YouTube, for instance, has spent a lot of time and money creating systems to filter content on its site, which hoovers up more than 24 hours of stuff every minute. And it works hand in hand with most big media companies to help them keep stuff they don’t want off the site — and to help them distribute other stuff they do want there.

Included in that list of companies playing very nicely with YouTube — Viacom’s sister company, CBS. And once this suit finally gets settled — which could still take years — my hunch is Viacom will want to work closely with the world’s biggest video site, too.

[Image credit: Sweetheart/Shutterstock]

 


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