Monday, June 28, 2010

Copyright Infringement?

Can we get some consistency please?

This past week, a Federal Judge in New York granted Google's request for a summary judgment against Viacom based on the "Safe Harbor" act. Viacom had filed suit (and does plan to appeal this ruling) stating that YouTube is a "den of thieves" since many copyrighted works are uploaded every day to the site.

Since some of these legal thingumyjigs may be foreign to you, I'll break it down a bit.

First, a summary judgment is requested at the outset of the case by one of the sides. Essentially, either the plaintiff or the defendant are telling the presiding judge, "look, your honor, this is a huge waste of time; the other side has no chance in hell of winning this case so can we please cut to the chase? Judge Judy comes on in 15 minutes." While this is requested in a relatively frequent manner, it is rarely granted because judges are generally predisposed to give everyone their day in court. The fact that this was granted in such a huge case where there are undoubtedly layers upon layers of intricacies is quite surprising.

Second, the Safe Harbor provision of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA, passed in 1996) states that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are not liable for the actions of their users even though it is not unusual, even expected to some degree, that said users will engage in some nefarious activity (like MP3 file sharing).

One could argue that a site as popular as YouTube has ability to screen every video to see if it is copyrighted material. First, videos are uploaded at a ridiculously fast pace: in May 2009, 33 minutes of video were uploaded every second to the site. Secondly, the set of copyrighted works is so vast that there is no possible way to check the videos against the entire body of works.

The counter argument, of course, is that if they can't do it then the site shouldn't be allowed to operate in the first place. But I digress...

The reason I yearn for some consistency is that, just last month, another Federal Judge agreed with the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) when they filed suit against Limewire stating that they continue to operate even though the service is frequently used (probably more often than not) to peddle copyrighted material around the Internet.

What's the difference between the two cases? I don't know. Both YouTube and Limewire are services provided as a convenience to the Internet community. Both are used for sharing content.

The only possible difference I can see is that material is actually uploaded to YouTube, meaning that a copyright claim submitted to Google will result in the offending video being pulled from the site. Limewire does not accept uploads - it merely acts as a broker between two people's computers - so therefore it is powerless to remove the content. It could try to prevent the advertisement of copyrighted material for sharing purposes, but what's to prevent me from taking an original work that I wrote and giving it a name that is identical to a work in the same genre from another artist?

I'm not one to advocate the intentional scoffing of the law, but it seems to me that these two cases are identical in spirit and yet they have far different outcomes. On top of this, the RIAA has garnered a reputation for bullying other entities because they have their heads so far up their asses that they refuse to admit that their business model is extremely outdated. But, again, I digress...

In any case, it will be very interesting to see if Limewire appeals this ruling now that the Google ruling has been rendered. In the end, we're all affected because the direction that either case takes (don't forget that Viacom has stated its intention to appeal) will have an impact on the way we currently use the Internet. After all, you upload content to Facebook, MySpace, etc. and there isn't a single person on the planet that subscribes to none of these ubiquitous services.

No comments:

Post a Comment