Video website extraordinaire YouTube, now owned by search engine mogul Google, may find itself in deep trouble before long. Not long after CEO Eric Schmidt commented that media companies will have no choice but to work with online sites, the Viacom Company, owners of MTV, Comedy Central, and Paramount, responded with a 1 billion USD lawsuit claiming that YouTube has committed something to the order 160,000 copyright violations. At issue is whether YouTube has actually violated the rights of Viacom. YouTube asserts that it has met legal and moral requirements by removing content upon request of the copyright holder. Viacom disagrees contending that the basic business model of YouTube is based on copyright infringement. Viacom contends that, “Their business model, which is based on building traffic and selling advertising off of unlicensed content, is clearly illegal and is in obvious conflict with copyright laws.”
I am more inclined to side with the Viacom Corporation. As the copyright holder, Viacom does and ought to have the sole right to reproduce the work, to distribute copies of the work, and publically perform or display the work. These rights can in no way be lessened or abrogated by the fact Viacom doesn’t wish to devote the necessary manpower to watch YouTube continuously to watch for violations, and even if they did, in all likelihood they would not be able to catch all of them. For instance a search for MTV turns up more than 31,000 references, Comedy Central a little more than 1,000, and Paramount a little under 2,000 and that only includes videos that explicitly reference those terms not videos that may solely be referenced by the name of the work or in some other way hidden from obvious detection. A search for Sailor Moon, a show whose original production run ended 10 years ago to the day, reveals more than 29,000 results including three full length movies in multiple languages and all 200 episodes in varying languages. It would be physically impossible for most copyright holders to search through YouTube to insure their rights aren’t being violated. Consider, we hardly require authors to read every publication in the United States to keep their rights from being violated, we instead insist that publishes refrain from publishing material in violation of copyright and hold them accountable when they do. The proper solution for YouTube here is to own up and take appropriate proactive steps on policing itself. YouTube’s current copyright policy requires (recreated under the public domain doctrine concerning policies and regulations):
1. A physical or electronic signature of a person authorized to act on behalf of the owner of an exclusive right that is allegedly infringed.
2. Identification of the copyrighted work claimed to have been infringed, or, if multiple copyrighted works at a single online site are covered by a single notification, a representative list of such works at that site.
3. Identification of the material that is claimed to be infringing or to be the subject of infringing activity and that is to be removed or access to which is to be disabled, and information reasonably sufficient to permit the service provider to locate the material.
4. Information reasonably sufficient to permit the service provider to contact the complaining party, such as an address, telephone number, and, if available, an electronic mail address at which the complaining party may be contacted.
5. A statement that the complaining party has a good faith belief that use of the material in the manner complained of is not authorized by the copyright owner, its agent, or the law.
6. A statement that the information in the notification is accurate, and under penalty of perjury, that the complaining party is authorized to act on behalf of the owner of an exclusive right that is allegedly infringed
All be submitted in writing for each alleged violation. The burden all of this places on copyright owners is excessive and could be easily avoided by YouTube hiring a staff member or two who are charged with proactively dealing with copyright issues. Additionally, YouTube should take steps to prevent users from immediately replacing a removed clip with another one. Naturally, some violators would still get through, but in fairness to YouTube, at the level of volume involved it’s understandable and just the good faith effort to prevent the violation of copyright would go a long way towards soothing the ruffled feathers of copyright holders.