Viacom In Denial Over Court Smackdown In YouTube Case
from the common-sense? dept
With Google’s victory over Viacom concerning the applicability of the DMCA’s safe harbors to YouTube, it’s no surprise at all that Viacom quickly announced its intentions to appeal. And, perhaps because of that, it needs to make statements about how wrong the ruling is. But, as with its position statements and filings throughout this lawsuit, much of the rhetoric from Viacom’s General Counsel Michael Fricklas makes no sense at all:
Copyright protection is essential to the survival of creative industries. It is and should be illegal for companies to build their businesses with creative material they have stolen from others. Without this protection, investment in the development of art and entertainment would be discouraged, and the many artists and producers who devote their lives to creating it would be hurt. Copyright protection is also critical to the web — because consumers love professional content and because legitimate websites shouldn?t have to compete with pirates.
This is both misleading and inaccurate. Fricklas, who I actually think understands these things a lot better than many others in his field, is certainly not dumb. But it’s beneath him to mislead with the statement above. Whether or not copyright protection is “essential to the survival of creative industries” (and recent research has shown that statement to be false), the question at play in this lawsuit has nothing to do with whether or not copyright law is allowed to be used. It’s merely a question of liability. Nothing in this ruling says that copyright law doesn’t apply. It just says that Viacom can’t blame Google for the actions of its users. Fricklas tries to mislead by pretending this is about whether or not copyright law applies at all.
It’s also frustrating that some reporters covering this story also seem to be taking the same position, saying that this ruling is “a big blow for traditional copyright laws.” It is not. Not even close. This ruling does not change traditional copyright laws in the slightest, and is entirely consistent with numerous previous rulings (all cited in the case). All this ruling concerns is who is liable for infringement: the user who uploads infringing material, or the platform provider who hosts it. The folks who crafted the DMCA made it clear that liability belonged squarely on the shoulders of those who did the uploading, and the court agreed.
Nothing in this ruling takes away from copyright law or changes copyright law, and even if you believe Fricklas’ unsubstantiated claims that copyright law is essential, nothing in this ruling changes the nature of copyright law. Pretending otherwise is being purposely misleading. Once again, it appears that Viacom is now more interested in fighting this out in the media, rather than the court room.
Before that, however, YouTube and Google stole hundreds of thousands of video clips from artists and content creators, including Viacom, building a substantial business that was sold for billions of dollars. We believe that should not be allowed by law or common sense.
This case has always been about whether intentional theft of copyrighted works is permitted under existing law and we always knew that the critical underlying issue would need to be addressed by courts at the appellate levels. Today’s decision accelerates our opportunity to do so.
This is, again, blatantly misleading on so many levels that it really discredits Fricklas. It means that he either does not understand the actual legal issues being discussed in this lawsuit or he’s being blatantly dishonest. You pick which is more likely. YouTube and Google “stole” nothing. If they had stolen anything, then Viacom should have gone to the police and pressed criminal charges. But Fricklas knows the law and knows that laws involving theft and laws involving copyright infringement are entirely different. On top of that, he knows that it was users who uploaded the content, not Google. Implying otherwise is misleading. As for what the case “has always been about,” again, he’s wrong. It’s not about that at all. It has always been about one thing and one thing only: who is liable for infringement done by users on a platform. The fact that Viacom chose to focus on the easy target of the platform provider, rather than those actually responsible (the uses), was simply a bad legal choice that Fricklas apparently does not want to accept blame for making.
I’m all for arguing the merits of whether or not Google or its users should be liable for infringement. But implying that this case is about changing copyright law or “permitting theft” is simply untrue.