Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Fox Raises the Ante for Copyright Infringement

On January 18th, Twentieth Century Fox subpoenaed YouTube in order to discover the identity of a user who posted pirated copies of the television shows "24" and "The Simpsons" on the popular video-sharing website.

According to the subpoena, the user--who goes by the name "ECOtotal"--uploaded the "24" season premiere prior to its network broadcast and also uploaded a dozen episodes of "The Simpsons." The same episodes were also uploaded on another video-sharing site, LiveDigital. Fox subpoenaed LiveDigital, too.

I've referred to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) before on this blog, but this a good time to bring it up again. The DMCA was passed by the U.S. Senate in October, 1998, and was intended to expand the penalties for copyright infringement on the Internet. According to Wikipedia, the new law went beyond copyright protection by criminalizing production of techology intended to circumvent copyright protection.

Title II of the DMCA, "the Online Copyright Infringement Liability Limitation Act ('OCILLA') creates a safe harbor for online service providers . . . against copyright liability if they adhere to and qualify for certain prescribed safe harbor guidelines and promptly block access to allegedly infringing material (or remove such material from their systems) if they receive a notification claiming infringement from a copyright holder or the copyright holder's agent." (Wikipedia) In other words, as long as your ISP takes down material after receiving a notice that the copyright holder has not granted permission for the post, the ISP is safe from liability.

The Wall Street Journal reported: "This isn't the first time the Twentieth Century Fox has had a piracy issue involving YouTube; a young user was identified in a case in which a Family Guy episode was posted on YouTube ahead of its premiere. However, in this recent case, Fox noted in the subpoena it has been unable to discover through its own investigation the identity of the subscriber."

In the meantime, Google, the new owner of YouTube, has its own plans for the video-sharing website. Friday's USA Today had a story in which it reported that Google has now added videos from YouTube into the Google search index.

"By including YouTube videos in Google's video search, "It will dramatically increase vido viewing on the Web . . . People will start finding lots of videos they never even knew existed." (USA Today)

The story quoted an analyst saying, "Most of us search for text and websites now, but eventually, we'll be getting to video, and Google is making sure they become the go-to place for video."

In the past, Google has been very responsive to copyright owners who complain about their material being used unlawfully on the Internet. They even have self-service tools to permit copyright holders to remove material themselves.

However, Google is trying a new strategy with these video clips. They are encouraging copyright holders to recognize the promotional value of their clips being played on YouTube. The "copyright holders could instead profit from their wider exposure by posting ads and making money off their huge viewership on YouTube." (USA Today)

In case you haven't recognized it, the argument is the same one Google is using in talks with authors and publishers who object to Google Search's wholesale copying of books.

It will be interesting to see if the video owners respond differently than the print publishers and writers.

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