“Those Motherf@#&ers”: YouTube and Viacom – We All Make Music

“Those Motherf@#&ers”: YouTube and Viacom

Ever since Viacom decided to sue YouTube (and, by extension, Google) for intentionally enabling the widespread copyright infringements that have fueled its massive growth, we’ve steered clear of covering it. We’re none of us lawyers over here (not yet, anyway), and trying to pick apart briefs is not exactly what we’d call an area of WAMM expertise.

But as of today, there is cursing and name-calling going on, so obviously, we’re all over that.

The shit-talking found in private e-mail communications – Google employees calling rights holders “a-holes,” Viacom execs calling YouTube “those motherfuckers” – is apparently worth an article (or 39,000), but what’s really amazing to us is the lack of flak Google’s taken in the court of public opinion thus far.

A lot of legal analysts seem skeptical about the prospects of this lawsuit going anywhere for Viacom. But so far, despite Google mysteriously “losing” thousands of pages of e-mails that were sent by its higher-ups when the company was considering buying YouTube, and the growing pile of evidence that Google has nothing but contempt for rights holders, it seems like very few people are getting upset at the world’s largest video streaming service.

So why, in our estimation, should people be getting mad at YouTube? As Ars Technica explains in an earlier post about this fight, “nearly every single item on YouTube is copyrighted; the real question is not whether the clips are copyrighted, but whether they are ‘authorized’ by the rightsholder for display on YouTube.”

This is obviously a hugely important question, and one that should put a significant onus on YouTube. But the company has essentially thrown up its hands and declared that the massive infringements they’ve enabled aren’t their problem. Via Ars, again:

Even if it was clear (and it was) that many of the clips on the site were copyrighted, YouTube insists that it could not know in advance whether those clips were authorized.

This isn’t “turning a blind eye to infringement,” in Google’s view; it is simply a practical reality. Instead, YouTube relied (and continues to rely) on rightsholders to send it takedown notices as specified in the DMCA. Sure, this placed a huge burden on rightsholders, especially since Google required a separate letter for every infringing URL and would not prevent the re-uploading of the same material by other users, but it was the only way the company could know if authorization for a specific clip had been granted.

YouTube’s claim that it can’t check everything in advance is slightly dubious, especially with video recognition software improving all the time (And if entertainment companies were assured that YouTube would police things being uploaded, how quickly do you think they would fork over audio and video signatures for all of their content?). And the fact that they refuse to put in some kind of safeguard to prevent the same objectionable material from being re-uploaded strikes us as negligent, to say the least.

To be fair, this lawsuit also speaks to the massive overhaul of copyright law and expansion of fair use that still needs to take place. But now that YouTube is streaming two billion videos a day, it’s time for them to acknowledge that they have to take some responsibility for the content that’s made them so much money.