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. icon
    PaulT (profile), 27 May 2008 @ 12:05pm

    Re: Nature of the Medium

    It's capable of doing both, but it's the communications that's the real strength. If broadcasting was the internet's strength, why would anyone use their computers instead of the TV to view content?

    "As a result, the broadcast media i.e. the content owners must rely on copyright law as their sole recourse to protect their content until a better legal framework for the exchange of digital content is more clearly devised."

    There's the problem, and I think you're looking at it in the same misguided way as the content owners. Your idea, and theirs, is that copyright law must provide a framework to restrict and control the general public so that content can be delivered in a profitable way.

    Mike's idea, and YouTube's for the most part, is that people will communicate with each other and select the best media. From there, the media can be exploited, monetized and profited from. Look at, for example, the way that some movie promotional material (Cloverfield, Watchmen, The Dark Knight) has gone "viral" and essentially promoted itself through people linking to YouTube clips and going "this is cool". Look at the way that a relatively smalltime TV show, cancelled within a few episodes (Firefly) gained such a fanbase through people talking about it online that a major movie was produced based on that. What about Family Guy and Futurama, which through online communication managed to get cancelled shows back on-air in some form.

    Now, I admit that none of the above examples are perfect, but is that the fault of YouTube, or an industry that's too dependent on pre-Internet thinking and business strategy?

    "If you look at it solely as a communications medium that delivers this content, then television and radio would also be communications mediums albeit one way."

    A.K.A. broadcast.

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