Friday, March 19, 2010

"Broadcast Yourself": Who's Really Broadcasting Who

Wow, never in my blogging career (which, by the way, has not been that long and has not really been a career) have I seen such a heated debate over copyright. Viacom and YouTube are attempting to eat each other alive over an issue of YouTube hosting a number of copyrighted videos produced by Viacom. The actual lawsuit has been going on for years, but only now has information gone public. And once they went public, both sides have been bad-mouthing the other, neither side seeming very credible.

Viacom's issue is simply: YouTube is hosting copyrighted material. In theory, the service provider should not be held responsible for copyrighted material that is posted to its service. But here's where the heat turns up. Viacom has "email evidence" that the popular video sharing site is specifically fostering pirated content on YouTube, and intentionally stole (and the word "steal" was in their supposed email) Viacom's videos so YouTube would make a profit. Just examining this side of the argument, since when would founders of a video sharing site rapidly increasing in popularity be vague and idiotic enough to send the words "steal it" in an unencrypted email. Furthermore, how did Viacom get a hold of this email. The entire idea of professional businessmen acting so unprofessional in a situation that would have obviously been illegal seems bogus. Furthermore, YouTube gets a lot of videos through personal uploads, and I doubt they would have resorted to stealing if they were getting a decent amount of popularity from what they already had. In other words, there is barely any motive and the evidence is faulty at best. However, Google does not sit back and take this lightly.

YouTube, which has since been bought out by Google while the lawsuit was ongoing, had to come back with an even more ridiculous response. They claim that Viacom has been using multiple marketing companies to purposely upload copies of their copyrighted videos that were made to look rough and pirated. Furthermore, they say that Viacom is doing this so they can cash in on the money they could have made when bidding to buy YouTube way back when. Personally, this sounds even worse than Viacom's argument, and while I applaud Google's creativity, they could have done better in believability. Would Viacom seriously go through the trouble of hiring marketing companies to "rough up" their videos, just so they could make some money through lawsuits? Furthermore, this plan would imply Viacom's executives did not think this plan over at all, because trying to get around the fact that YouTube is not liable for its content would have been very difficult. So yet again we have a ridiculous argument that barely makes any sense.

Now do not get me wrong: both arguments are totally plausible. But even in a world of hate, greed, and trickery, the proposed crimes each company is accusing each other of are almost baseless. Furthermore, seeing at Viacom is the only company right now that really cares about YouTube propagating its content (most others have worked out contracts with the site), it is unlikely they will receive much support. In fact, if they win and something bad happens to YouTube, they just might run into a PR nightmare. I can see it now: "YouTube mercilessly killed by greedy executive." And even if one or both of their claims are true, how does that get around the fact that YouTube is not liable for the content they host? If anything, they should be attacking whoever uploaded the videos, which is either a YouTube employee or a Viacom employee working under a marketing company.

In the end, this does not look like it is going to end well. My thought: they will either both back off, make a mutual agreement, or continue to kill each other until it becomes a fight between Google and Viacom overall. (Ironically, this is a fight between Google and a television media company, right as Google is looking to take over your television.)

[Edit] Turns out, not surprisingly, Viacom's claims about YouTube's email conversation were taken completely out of context. They were actually joking around about stealing videos, and the videos they were joking about stealing were viral videos, not much to do with Viacom. See this article for more details.

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