Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Viacom vs. Google, Round One

Things are heating up in the Viacom vs. Google lawsuit.

In case you need to be brought up to speed: Last October, Google purchased the popular social networking site, YouTube.

Along with the benefits of owning the most popular video site on the Internet, Google purchased all the problems. Media companies have been complaining for months about the unauthorized downloading of music, movies and other copyrighted content. Since the purchase, Google has been the one trying to negotiate the peace. The companies complaining about unauthorized downloads include five of the seven biggest media conglomerates: Disney, GE, News Corp, Viacom and Time Warner.

In early February, talks broke down between Google, YouTube and Viacom. Six weeks later, on March 13th, Viacom sued both YouTube and Google in New York's U.S. District Court for more than $1 billion dollars, citing widespread copyright infringement.

According to the Associated press, "Viacom claims that YouTube has displayed nearly 160,000 unauthorized video clips from its cable networks, which also include Comedy Central, VH1 and Nickelodeon." The media giant said that YouTube's business, "which is based on building traffic and selling advertising off of unlicensed content, is clearly illegal and is in obvious conflict with copyright laws."

On Monday, Google responded. An article in the May 1 edition of the Chicago Tribune reported that Google "has hired a Chicago law firm, Bartlit Beck Herman Palenchar & Scott LLP, with a reputation for courtroom battles."

According to Tech News World (TNW) "Google claimed that Viacom's allegations of copyright infringement were without merit because You Tube is protected by one or more of the DMCA Safe Harbor provisions." The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) was signed into law on October 28, 1998. It provides "safe harbor" for online service providers, including ISPs, against copyright liability if they block access or remove copyright-infringing material once they are notified of a copyright infringement claim.

Google claims that, not only did YouTube remove such material, they "instituted a number of tools to assist copyright owners to identify clips that may violate their rights. The tools . . . prevent YouTube users from repeatedly uploading a video once it has been removed from the site." (TNW)

Viacom responded that YouTube doesn't qualify for safe harbor protection. They claim that YouTube was set up to profit from copyright infringement.

Observers indicated that all this posturing is a negotiating tactic. The Chicago Tribune interviewed Brian Bolan of Jackson Securities who seems to believe that Google cannot afford to lose this case. He said, "Losing would have long-term repercussions . . . Other content-holders would have a strong position against Google."

This may be the case that prompts Congress to take another look at the issue of copyright. The Internet world has evolved in ways that the lawmakers who signed the DMCA could not have anticipated. It's time for them to go back to the table.

The next hearing in this case is scheduled for July.

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