I’m over in Europe running about visiting clients at the moment, so it was interesting to be in a different part of the world when the news that a judge effectively gutted Viacom’s $1billion copyright infringement case against YouTube/Google. (Yes, yes, I know, Viacom will appeal which means this case will drag on for awhile.)
The judge sided with Google’s argument that the “safe harbor” provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act protect Google and other online portals, ISPs and communications service providers against liability for the alleged or actual copyright infringement committed by their users — as long as they (Google or any ISP or site) respond to take-down notices sent by the rightsholders and remove the copyrighted material. During the case many colorful anecdotes made their way into the press. Some of my favorites:
* Google knew what was going on and ignored it because traffic volumes were growing (an allegation made by Viacom’s legal team).
* Viacom employees actually used YouTube to their own ends by uploading promos of programs in hopes of growing the audience (an allegation made by Google)
My first reaction when I saw these nuggets appear in the press ? “Duh.”
Sure the Google/YouTube teams would know there were/are infringing videos on the site. Evidence was presented during the case that, when notified they apparently made signficant efforts to remove the offending material. That’s what the DMCA “safe harbor” provisions require.
And I was not surprised to see that any number of Viacom employees may have uploaded copies of their very own company’s shows to the site. For God’s sake, if you were responsible for promoting some show, and you wanted to maybe make a few consumers aware of your program (or remind them of why they like the program) wouldn’t you go to a site that gets hundreds of millions of visitors every day of the week? Of course you would.
Consumers like online video. They like sites and services that make it very, very convenient to get video. Even the music labels, some at least, have recognized this, hence the Vevo channel on YouTube. Now, while advertising revenue generated from these online videos may not yet be where some had hoped, they are generating revenue. The supremacy of convenience is what consumers are opting for – I think they’ll pay for those services that can deliver on that.
So, while Viacom will pursue an appeal, I wonder if some of those legal resources might be better applied to finding more ways to license and exploit online versions of Viacom’s popular content assets and figure out how to balance the opportunities of online and over-the-top options and figuring out how to evolve incumbent broadcast carriage models.
Hugely complicated issues, indeed. But maybe it’s time for both parties to get out of the courtroom and get into the lab and boardroom.