Tag Archives: YouTube

DMCA needs to actually enter the millennium

The DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) of 1998 sought to give Internet Service Providers legal protection (a “safe harbor”) against copyright infringement claims should one of their users upload copyrighted material. The act made sense at the early stages of the Internet before broadband expansion lead to companies like YouTube and sites like the Pirate Bay.

The DMCA puts the burden of enforcement squarely in the hands of content providers by way of the “takedown notice” which is essentially a form sent to the ISP owner stating that there is some type of media or software on their site which they do not have the rights to be hosting. The takedown notice informs the ISP owner that further legal action will be taken if they don’t comply by removing the sited item(s).

The problem with the DMCA today is that content owners can’t keep up with the volume of takedown notices they have to file. YouTube has received over 100 million DMCA notices from the recording industry in just the last few years. Google’s own statistics show that 97% of these claims are valid.

The DMCA’s safe harbor is also the main defense used by pirate sites like The Pirate Bay, KickAssTorrents and Torrentz. These sites have earned millions by illegally hosting content for which they have no rights or licenses.

Unfortunately, rather than manage copyright, it [the DMCA] has provided a huge loophole through which a number of online pirate entrepreneurs sail blissfully through. Known as the “safe harbor” provision, this oft-abused language has served to shelter digital thieves at the expense of rights holders. ”Safe Harbor” has enabled the growth of a criminal cancer and it’s a cancer–that as of now–cannot be beaten, only kept (marginally) at bay. – See more at VoxIndie.org

The DMCA is Broken from fastgirlfilms on Vimeo.

The Tricky Task of Defining “Fair Use” in an electronic world

Copyright-imageAlmost every copyright infringement dispute regarding the Internet and electronic media comes down to the tricky task of defining what is Fair Use.

The Fair Use provision of US Copyright law was meant to ease the ways in which copyrighted material could be used to facilitate research. Teachers could reproduce portions of copyrighted material to illustrate a lesson, news reporters and broadcasters would not have to worry if copyrighted material was used incidentally during a news report.

This definition was crafted before the Internet was even a speck on the horizon. At that time using copyrighted material posed a bit of a challenge but in today’s world, where copyright infringement is a right-click away, Fair Use has blown up into a political issue with lobbyists now attempting to stretch the initial intent of the law to fit in digital world.

So far, determining how to apply Fair Use to the Internet and electronic media has proven to be a complex task for the courts. In the mammoth Google/YouTube v. Viacom copyright infringement case, the final decision of the court revolved around an interpretation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which addresses the liability of the online service provider, while dancing around the proverbial elephant in the room…the definition of Fair Use.

Cory Doctorow has an interesting post in which he discusses a very concise definition of Fair Use put forth by Tim Wu. Wu’s proposed definition of Fair Use is as follows:

If it adds new value, it’s Fair Use. If it substitutes for the original, it’s infringement.

It’s simple enough, to be sure, but it’s far more favorable to the users of content than it is to the creators of that content. It tracks along the lines of the ideas in Lawrence Lessig’s book Remix which argues that creative content should become something freely available to all for the benefit of moving the culture forward (how did our culture ever move forward before Lessig?). With Remix Culture, content can be used and turned into something else without the permission or remuneration of the original creator. Take a Beatles song, put some new beats on it and viola, you’re a composer.

Lobbyists now talk of the Fair Use Industries and a Fair Use Economy. I would ask – Fair Use Economy vs. what? The Copyright Economy? There is some heavyweight positioning going on trying to broaden the interpretation of Fair Use. To me this is almost always being done to restrict or remove the existing rights of content creators.

To see how the digital world can quickly skew the concept of Fair Use, one need only look at homemade videos uploaded to YouTube. Here you have a non-commercial, family video that uses a popular song as a soundtrack (obvious fair use). But then it gets uploaded to YouTube and becomes site content. Fair Use? It’s now an issue of interpretation. Is the content still Fair Use because the user created the content for private use, or does it infringe on copyright because that content is now an asset of YouTube, a money-making enterprise.

Yes, things get murky in an electronic world. Here’s my understanding of copyright and Fair Use. It’s also a simple definition but it’s one that is being rigorously challenged.

If the content in question is not original to your project (not created by you/in-house or work-for-hire) and its usage is contributing to a commercial enterprise then it is not fair use and the media should be legally licensed.

The many angles of Fair Use in copyright

A recent article in the New York Times draws into focus the many differing interpretations and perspectives surrounding copyright law’s doctrine of Fair Use.

The article describes how three separate parties, a young musician, Google’s YouTube service and the Warner Music Group, became entangled over the use of the Christmas classic “Winter Wonderland”

The musician, Juliet Weybret, uploaded a video to YouTube that showed her performing the song. A few weeks later she was informed by YouTube that the video was being taken down because of objections by the Warner Music Group.  Warner Music Group owns the copyright for Winter Wonderland and currently has no licensing agreement in place with Google.

Ms Weybret rightly felt that she was using the song in a noncommercial way and therefore was within the tenets of fair use. She was not gaining financially in any way by performing the song. It was basically a home video that she put on YouTube. The performance is not a money making venture, it doesn’t compete or impede Warner Music Group from earning income from the song. If you look at the performance itself, it is certainly fair use and does not infringe on the copyright in any way. 

Warner Music Group, no doubt, feels the same way about the performance.  However, when that performance is uploaded to YouTube and becomes part of the content of a multi-million dollar enterprise, then the notion of the performance (the video) as fair use is challenged. In Warner’s view, the video now contributes to the income YouTube makes from showing videos on the web.  The use of the video by Google/YouTube is therefore not fair use.  

Use of third party copyrights without permission has dogged YouTube since it became a major Internet presence.  The company initially relied on Fair Use as well as the safe harbor provision of the DMCA as an argument for not removing video content.  That decision created a substantial amount of push-back from copyright holders and a slew of lawsuits followed. Google now has a very high-tech filtering system that will automatically remove videos that use unlicensed content from YouTube.  

From the NY Times article…

Referring to Ms. Weybret, Ben Sheffner, a copyright lawyer in Los Angeles who has worked on antipiracy at the 20th Century Fox movie studio, said, “From her persepctive it’s completely noncommercial because she’s not making a dime. But from another perspective it’s entirely commercial because Google is trying to make money off it”

Democratization of content not so democratic

Democratization of content
Democratization of information
Democratization of media

I’m noticing more and more use of the term “democratization” in articles about the media business.

The term is especially popular in discussions about social media. Social media, a relatively new term, has come to mean those Internet tools that facilitate the “wisdom of the crowd” model where meaning and value are derived through mass collaboration. Examples of social media sites would be such Web 2.0 stars as Wikipedia, Myspace, Facebook Digg, Flikr and Youtube.

Here’s an example from an article by Brian Solis, the owner of the Silicon Valley public relations firm FutureWorks PR.

Social Media is the democratization of content and the understanding of the role people play in the process of not only reading and disseminating information, but also how they share and create content for others to participate. It is the shift from a broadcast mechanism to a many-to-many model, rooted in a conversational format between authors and people.

Democratization, as I understood it, had to do with an authoritarian government moving towards a less oppressive, more open society. When applied to media or content, democratization has come to mean a move away from a perceived old and authoritarian media – the major TV networks, film studios, record companies and newspapers – towards a seemingly less oppressive, personally created environment provided by web technology where content is readily available, is free, and can be delivered based on ones likes and dislikes or even the likes and dislikes of one’s network of friends.

We are naturally attracted to words like democracy or democratization in the United States. It’s in our blood. We learn early on that democracy represents freedom. So when democracy is applied to terms like media and information, it’s easy to believe that this must be a good and positive thing.

My own feeling is that democratization can’t realistically be applied to information at all. By casting the media as authoritarian, the term can be used politically by those technologists who are trying to wrest power away from the established media towards their new Web 2.0 innovations.

Content is evaluated on quality, on how well it informs, entertains, teaches or illuminates truths. Using “popularity” as its measure is to greatly misrepresent it.

I enjoyed this blog post by Andrew Keen, author of last year’s controversial book The Cult of the Amateur. He points out in his blog post The end of the middle that democratization of media is in fact a falsehood and that, in reality, wealth and power are just being reallocated to new companies like Google, YouTube, Facebook etc.

ISPs must take responsibility for stopping illegal file-sharing

ISPs must take responsibility for stopping illegal file-sharing on its network. So says a court in Belgium in a ruling that sets an important precedent in the fight against piracy.

The ruling against the ISP Scarlet (formerly Tiscali) was aimed mostly at P2P networks. The judge said that ISPs have the technical means at their disposal to either block or filter copyright-infringing material on P2P networks.

IFPI Chairman and CEO John Kennedy said: “This is an extremely significant ruling which bears out exactly what we have been saying for the last two years – that the internet’s gatekeepers, the ISPs, have a responsibility to help control copyright-infringing traffic on their networks. The court has confirmed that the ISPs have both a legal responsibility and the technical means to tackle piracy. This is a decision that we hope will set the mould for government policy and for courts in other countries in Europe and around the world.”

The ruling may be bad news for YouTube, faced as it is with several copyright-infringement lawsuits. This case says that ISPs definitely have some responsibility or obligation for the content that is displayed across their networks. YouTube has argued that it can’t know everything on its site, that it removes content once a DMCA takedown notice is served. However if a notice is never served, then infringing material stays. The Belgian ruling says that, in its purview, YouTube does bear responsibilty for the content it serves.

More copyright lawsuits for YouTube

Add England’s Football Association Premier League as the latest group to sue YouTube for violating copyright law.

Responding to the suit, Google’s general counsel, Kent Walker, said via email that “these suits simply misunderstand the (DMCA), which balances the rights of copyright holders against the need to protect Internet communications. As a result, they threaten the way people legitimately exchange information.”

It appears that defining YouTube as a “service provider” under DMCA regulations will be Google/YouTube’s main defense in these copyright infringement cases. But will a judge and jury accept that YouTube can be defined as a mere service provider under DMCA parameters? The DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act), which was passed in 1998 under President Clinton, relieves ISPs or web hosts of liability if one of their hosted sites violates copyright law. Under DMCA, as long as the ISP immediately removes the illegal content and in some cases terminates the offending sites account, then the ISP is not liable for the actions of the hosted site.

When YouTube’s CEO Chad Hurley was asked about YouTube’s copyright violations by New Jersey Republican, Rep. Mike Ferguson at a May 10th hearing on Capitol Hill, Hurley defended the site’s practices as in compliance with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

I believe, as others do, that YouTube is misapplying the DMCA. Under their interpretation the burden is the copyright holders alone. The copyright holder has to maintain constant vigilance against infringement. While this may be true to some degree, YouTube is also basically saying here that they believe no law is broken as long as they receive no notice that a specific video is violating copyright. What if the copyright holder is unaware of the infringement and does not ask for removal, is there then no liability?

The truth is, copyright law is broken as soon as one party uses the copyrighted work of another without permission. Further, the law is broken, not at the moment the copyright holder becomes aware of the infringement, the law is broken the moment the work was used. Trying to wrap this simple statement of copyright law into a provision of the DMCA, complicating it with so called “take-down notices” and filtering software, though beneficial to YouTube, is, in my opinion, not going to fly at a copyright infringement trial.

Google’s Kent Walker interprets the DMCA to say that the exchange of information over the Internet and the need to “protect Internet communications” (not quite sure what that means?) is equally as important as upholding the rights of copyright holders. I don’t believe the DMCA was made law for this reason. It sought to relieve ISPs of liability if, say, one of their sites uploaded a hacked version of Microsoft Word. I don’t think the legislators in 1998 ever envisioned the DMCA being used to offer coverage for a company that freely broadcasts videos that they have no permission to offer.

YouTube will face its first copyright infringement lawsuit

The first copyright infringement suit against YouTube is coming to trial. The case was brought last July by Robert Tur, a helicopter pilot/journalist known for his famous footage of O.J Simpson’s low-speed Ford Bronco chase in 1994 and the brick attack on Reginald Denny during the Los Angeles riot of 1992. It is exactly this footage that is at the heart of Mr. Tur’s lawsuit against YouTube. The suit alleges hundreds of copyright infringements and hundreds of illegal downloads through the YouTube site.

In an interesting development, Viacom and NBC filed a “friends-of-the-court” brief on May 4th asking the court to deny a motion filed by Google to dismiss Mr. Tur’s suit.

Copyright and Process in the Age of User-Posted Content

Denis DeJong, a senior fellow at The Progress and Freedom Foundation has released a transcript from the foundation’s March 16 seminar titled What Goes Up Must Come Down: Copyright and Process in the Age of User-Posted Content. Mr DeJong is the director of the foundations’s Center for the Study of Digital Property.

The 27 page pdf transcript successfully frames the YouTube copyright infringement issue looking at remedies such as DMCA takedown notices and filtering technology.

The panel includes Donald Verrilli, a partner at Jenner & Block, the law firm that brought the suit by Viacom against YouTube and Google. Read his comments to see a glimpse of Viacom’s legal strategy. He rejects YouTube’s DMCA defense saying “And I don’t think we are getting any serious dispute from YouTube about whether this is infringing activity. After all, when these DMCA notices go to YouTube, YouTube does pull the works down… It’s not like this is a real fight about whether there is some great level of fair use or non-infringment use going on here.”

Along with Verrilli and moderator DeJong, the other panelists are Solveg Singleton, a senior adjunct fellow at The Progress & Freedom Foundation, Christian Dawson, of Servint Internet Services (in the discussion he gives the ISP side of the infringement debate) and William Rosenblatt, a recognized authority on digital media technologies.

A great discussion with very informative panelists.

YouTube/Google will see Viacom in court

The New York Times reports that Google is not interested in settling the copyright infringement suit brought by Viacom. They want a jury trial. Google is relying on the “safe harbor” provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) which says essentially that Internet service providers, like ISPs or web hosts, are not liable for the copyrighted material uploaded by their subscribers as long as the service providers promptly remove the material once asked to do so by the copyright holder.

“This response ignores the most important fact of the suit, which is that YouTube does not qualify for safe harbor protection under the D.M.C.A.,” Viacom said. “It is obvious that YouTube has knowledge of infringing material on their site, and they are profiting from it.”

This story sparked over 80 comments on TechCrunch. One of those comments, by a poster name Raj, frames the issue very well.

“Ultimately, the even bigger issue that may arise from the ViaGoog lawsuit is whether DMCA may need to be re-visited to better reflect appropriate use of copyrighted material. The way it is written now, DMCA is being interpreted quite loosely by firms such as Google. DMCA was written to protect copyrighted material from inappropriate use but it seems in reality that firms which interpret it loosely are using it as a protection in a sense to get away with leveraging unconsented content for profit without properly compensating content owners for the material being used. The people who own/create content tend to get [angry] when others utilize their content without consent. Google has gone one step further by monetizing this material by displaying ads next to the video content in question. It will come down to which firm’s high priced lawyers can make a better case about DMCA compliance/non-compliance.”

I believe this case will come down to the court’s interpretation of DMCA and whether YouTube can successfully claim they are just a “service provider”.

Personally I think they are more than just a service provider. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act became law in 1998 under President Clinton. Back then it was intended to give ISPs some protection from liability if one of their hosted sites uploaded copyrighted content – like say – hacked versions of Microsoft Word.

But YouTube is more than a host – it tags all of its content, there are cross-referenced links to similar content. I can view a bootleg copy of a Rolling Stones performance and the site will show me tags for other similar bootleg Stones videos and it will then also offer linked recommendations to view similar bootlegs from Bob Marley for example. In other words, YouTube is actively engaged with its content, its not just sitting there as a mere host. There is a database in place that aggregates the content and offers users its results.

At some point in 2005 the folks at YouTube made a decision to allow the uploading of copyrighted material to the site. That decision led to the immense popularity of the site and an eventual $1 billion windfall. Now that decision will have its day in court.

YouTube close to preventing copyrighted content uploads

I’ve been watching with great interest how YouTube handles accusations that it knowingly hosts and broadcasts copyrighted material. It now seems that Google, which acquired YouTube in November of 2006, is close to releasing technology that will help eliminate video uploads which violate intellectual property laws. Claim Your Content is Google’s name for filtering technology that will give content providers and publishers an easy way to alert YouTube that copyrighted material has been uploaded to its site.

But is a major showdown brewing? This March, Viacom sued Google and YouTube for $1 billion citing massive and intentional copyright infringement. Will this case ever go to court? Google has begun making revenue sharing deals with its major content contributors. If Google and Viacom can agree on revenue sharing terms then Viacom’s copyright infringment suit probably never goes to trial.

I don’t think there’s any question that YouTube built its vast community, and its brand, while knowingly broadcasting copyrighted material. Now, under Google’s dominion, the site is rapidly making attempts to satisfy copyright regulations.

Going forward with revenue sharing seems like the smartest way out of the copyright problem. However, will major media companies like Viacom seek compensation for past broadcasting of their content – broadcasting which made YouTube one of the top destinations on the Internet and that led Google to purchase the company for 1 billion dollars?

By October of 2006, before Google acquired it, an estimated 90 percent of the more than 100 million videos watched daily on YouTube violated copyright laws, according to Josh Bernoff of Forrester Research.

I’m sure Google/YouTube will work out revenue sharing with its major content providers going forward. The questions to me are:

  1. Will they compensate (or be forced, through the courts, to compensate) for that initial decision to broadcast copyrighted material in the first place?
  2. How will they compensate for that initial decision to broadcast copyrighted material?
  3. Can you create a business that essentially gives everyone else’s products away, and then sell it to a megacorp for $1 billion, and not pay some legal penalty?

Follow Up: This article from the Washington Post, published on March 24, 2007 Our Case Against YouTube outlines Viacom’s case against YouTube. It was written by Michael Fricklas, general council for Viacom.