Google Sings the Copyright Infringement Blues

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2008-05-28 Print this article Print


Google has been on cruise control for awhile regarding copyright issues, but in the past week a few issues have burbled up that bear watching.

First, Google last Friday filed a statement in a Manhattan district court challenging Viacom's more than one-year-old, $1 billion copyright infringement suit versus Google's YouTube video-sharing Web site.

The gist: Viacom is tired of its MTV and Comedy Central content running on YouTube. Google claims YouTube fulfills the Digital Millennium Copyright Act's mandate to remove content from the site when content owners complain that it's illegally online.

It also says that "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 a huge one, and the sides are so far apart they can't see the middle. Viacom wants to protect its property, and feels YouTube provides a superhighway for its content to get repurposed. Google, meanwhile, wants to use YouTube to let users files and sell ads against them. Shall ever the twain meet?

Meanwhile, college students everywhere are on the YouTube bandwagon, mortified by the prospect that they wouldn't be able to upload "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" clips at their leisure.

Fundamentally, I think Viacom is right, but it doesn't feel that way. I don't upload content of any kind to YouTube, but if I did I wouldn't want to be told what could go on there and what couldn't. That would suck out the fun of it.

How will this pan out? I think Google will pay Viacom substantially to cover current infringements, as well as some one-fee-fits-all sum to let users infringe away, either on an annualized basis or in perpetuity, but we won't know the terms.

But if Viacom wants more than Google thinks it will make back selling video ads against YouTube content, there won't be a deal and Google will simply have to police its content even more stringently.

The company claims its YouTube Video Identification tool works, but damned if those copies of pirated yet-to-be-officially-released movies don't find their way back on the site under a different heading.

Meanwhile, in other Google copyright blues, a pesky group of Belgian newspapers has filed a lawsuit against Google claiming that Google made the papers' articles available for free despite a previous court ruling that said it could not reproduce the stories.
Accordingly, the copyright defense organization Copiepresse wants $77 million in damages for violating copyright laws. This isn't a battle worth fighting. If Copiepresse has evidence, Google would do well to settle the drop in the bucket and be done with them.

Just as it does with YouTube, Google has claimed it will gladly remove any content the papers don't want on its site, but this can be a tedious process for both sides. The papers don't want to comb through every search index for evidence anymore than Google wants to strip out specific content.

It seems Google is going to spend the remainder of its online life fighting copyright laws in the U.S. and all over the world. Google can't keep paying forever, so I expect one of two things will happen.

The company will either lobby for governmental copyright changes, something that will make more allowances for Web content. Or, the company will try to implement some sort of computerized traffic cop for its site that mercilessly tears down content that shouldn't be there.

Either feat is Herculean and not likely to work, so Google will keep paying until something gives. What do you think will happen?  |

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