Viacom Actively Infringed Upon Itself on YouTube

May 22, 2010

As the war between Viacom and Google heats up, this has become one of my favorite news bits from the past couple of months.

As court documents from the feud became public, it was discovered that Google alleges that some of the challenged content was intentionally posted on Youtube by Viacom. This presents an interesting defense.  In an economic environment where viral marketing is the most effective, Viacom has a multitude of reasons to infringe upon their own rights.  If they chose to do so, does that constitute a waiver of their copyrights?

In the world of Web 2.0, viral marketing has become and essential component of nearly every business.  Social media has made the consumer tremendously stronger when it comes to promoting any product or service.  Having a user create a Facebook campaign for you seems to be even more effective than a Super Bowl Commercial (the Betty White SNL campaign).  In order to appear as if a product has grassroots support, companies will use secondary companies to post content from IP addresses not associated with either company.  Ever notice how the first few episodes of every new show get “leaked”?

The concept of viral marketing poses very few IP questions to the average company as they have little content to protect.  Entertainment companies like Viacom, however, have a lot to lose and gain from viral marketing and user created content.  How does a company go about exploiting the new technology while still protecting their content?  And if they chose to promote the infringement of their content via specific outlet, does that create a blanket waiver of the infringement of their content on that outlet?

The first lesson that I feel like needs to be learned by most businesses is that social media is leveling the playing field.  We all have a link to mass media and a wide base of consumers.  In order to stay relevant, traditional companies are going to have to make use of the new medium.

Secondly, copyright laws in this country need to be overhauled to handle this new level of mass communication.  If web users are going to drive your sales, then you need to make concessions to said users when it comes to enforcing your intellectual properties.

Full story @ USA Today

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Happy 300th Birthday Copyright

April 11, 2010

Three centuries ago, the civilized world embarked upon a journey of unforeseeable repercussions that has essentially made most common people criminals.  On April 10th, 1710, the United Kingdom enacted the first statute to ever grant individuals a right in the copies of their printed works.  Entitled the Statute of Anne, the law granted book printers an initial 14 years of protection for their efforts with the option for an extension of 14 years.  In the United States, that term of protection has been expanded to 70 years.

Although copyright has developed into an economic right, it was originally created in order to promote learning.  Not only did the Statute of Anne grant rights to the publisher for protect their works, it also commanded publishers to deposit copies of the book in the King’s Library as well as the libraries of Oxford and Cambridge.  Three centuries ago, no that many books existed, and very few common people had access to them.  With the passage of Statute of Anne, anyone that could study at Oxford or Cambridge had access to every printed work of the land.

Flash-forward to the present, and the world’s largest library, Google Books, is involved in a massive lawsuit with publishers and authors around the world.  For the past few years, Google has been scanning and recording every book in a searchable database.  For many of the books logged, Google has not bothered acquiring permission from the copyright holders.  As any researcher can tell you, the service is invaluable.  With the same speed that Google searches the Internet, Google Books has the ability to return corresponding written works relevant to a user’s search.

Comparing the Statute of Anne to the current legal battle that embroils Google’s Books project, it immediately becomes apparent how much copyright law has become twisted.  Copyright protection was originally granted to publishers as trade to encourage publishers to deposit copies of their works in libraries.  Now, copyright is granted immediately upon creation before the author shares the work with anyone.  An author receives just as much protection for hoarding their works as much as they would for sharing.  This to me is the most compelling argument for a complete overhaul of the worldwide copyright system.

Full story.