The Difference Between Content And Communication In The YouTube/Viacom Billion Dollar Spat

from the this-may-take-a-while dept

It's been well over one year since Viacom sued YouTube for $1 billion, but these things take time. Late Friday, Google filed its response to Viacom's recent filings in regards to the lawsuit, and basically said pretty much what you'd expect Google to say:
  1. that it follows the rules of the DMCA's notice-and-takedown procedure
  2. that it does everything it can possibly do to stop the sharing of any copyrighted content that it's alerted to and
  3. that Viacom's claims that it's not doing anything are clearly incorrect.
Google also makes the rather important point that the DMCA safe harbors were put in place for a very good reason (to make sure liability is focused on those actually liable) and if the court were to overturn those safe harbors it could dismantle much of what makes the internet work as a communications platform.

What's really left unsaid (but is an important point of conflict that we're going to see more and more of over the next few years) is that this suit demonstrates the different ways that certain companies are viewing the internet (and how our existing laws are basically duct-taped together to account for this difference). Media companies still look on the internet as a content platform. That is, they think of it as a new broadcast medium. Most other folks recognize that the internet is a communications medium, and the focus should be on the ease of communication. That's a problem for anyone who comes from a world of broadcast media, and it creates all sorts of problems for copyright law that is designed mainly to protect a broadcast-style media. Yet, when it comes to communication, the idea of using copyright to restrict content gets weird in a hurry.

In typical communication, copyright makes no sense. You don't worry about copyright (even though it exists) when you send a letter or an email to a friend. You're communicating, so of course the idea gets copied and repeated. In broadcast, the broadcast media model was always based on control and artificial scarcity. The DMCA safe harbors are kind of a kludge to deal with this difference, putting the onus on the communicator not to be breaking someone's copyright, leaving the communications platform out of it. Yet from the perspective of the media companies, they view the internet as a broadcast media, and thus the YouTube's of the world aren't communication platform providers, but competing broadcasters. Hopefully, the court will recognize the reality that the internet was always a communications platform, and it's just the broadcast media (who are late to the party, anyway) who are trying to force it to act more like a broadcast system.

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  1. identicon
    Brad Eleven, 27 May 2008 @ 3:41am

    Late to the Party, Indeed!

    This brilliant analogy is buried at the end of the post, but sums up the idea very well. It reminds me of a post to a Perl forum more than a few years ago, entitled "This Language is SLOW." The complainer included the code, which used the older C model of reading one character at a time in a loop. The newbie got quite a bit of advice and is to this day a major CPAN contributor.

    Unfortunately, media conglomerates aren't likely to post to a forum or to show anyone what they're doing. Even if they did, the odds of any of them taking advice is very low.

    I think the media industry is populated by the descendants of the pioneers of film and television. They don't know what they're doing, and they seem to have a sense of entitlement that prevents them from moving forward.

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