Plenty of attention today on the fact that YouTube's lawyers decided to shoot off a cease and desist letter to Mike Arrington at Techcrunch, for putting up an easy to use tool that would let users download videos from YouTube and put them on their video iPods. Arrington (a former lawyer from the very firm that sent the C&D) goes through why he doesn't believe it's valid, noting that the site's own terms of service clearly say it's okay to download videos for personal use, so long as you retain the copyright info associated with the video. He also points out that anyone who uploads a video agrees to YouTube's terms, which includes granting all YouTube users "a non-exclusive license to access your User Submissions through the Website, and to use, reproduce, distribute, prepare derivative works of, display and perform such User Submissions..." However, when you read the full cease-and-desist letter it gets even more interesting. First, YouTube's lawyers pull out the Grokster "inducement" standard, in claiming that the tool "induces" people to infringe on YouTube's user's copyrights. It makes sense, because that's about the only argument they'd have against the tool, since the tool (or its developer) aren't actually guilty of direct copyright infringement. However, that's extremely dangerous territory for YouTube to get into, because there are plenty (Hi, Mark Cuban), who believe that YouTube itself is guilty of "inducing" copyright infringement itself. The decision by YouTube's lawyers to stretch the definition of "inducement" could very well come back to bite them -- especially if whoever sues them points out that the company's own lawyers seem to have a very broad definition of the term themselves. Second, YouTube keeps wanting to claim a clear separation between themselves and the actual copyright of the videos that are being uploaded for very sound legal reasons. Yet, here, they're suddenly sending their lawyers out, not to protect their own copyright, but the copyright of the uploaded videos. That seems to be suggesting that they really do have a closer connection to the legal status of the videos than they'd like to claim to remain untouched by the legal liability.
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