Viacom vs. YouTube — clash of the titans

The Viacom takedown notice — in which the entertainment conglomerate told YouTube to take down more than 100,000 video clips that infringe on the company’s copyrights — has sparked a back-and-forth between the forces of good and evil, or freedom and restraint, or lawlessness and justice, or (fill in your favourite diametrically opposed positions here).

In one corner we have Cory Doctorow, former director with the Electronic Freedom Foundation, who writes on BoingBoing about Viacom terrorizing YouTube by abusing the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, sending letters about any content that has a keyword in common with a piece of Viacom content. And in the other corner is Mark Cuban, billionaire sports team owner, media mogul and blogosphere gadfly, who says that YouTube is deliberately withholding filtering methods it could be using to block copyrighted content.


Mark, of course, has a history as far as YouTube and its, er… liberal definition of copyright infringement is concerned. A few days before Google acquired YouTube, Mark said that “only a moron” would buy it because of copyright concerns. Then YouTube announced agreements with CBS (which used to be part of Viacom), Universal, Sony BMG and others that saw the company agree to pay content owners and put in place copyright filters.

So who is right? Cory, with his complaint that Viacom is using legal means to beat up on YouTube, or Mark, with his argument that YouTube is playing dumb? I would argue both are right (Don Dodge has an answer for Cory’s argument about false positives here). Viacom is hitting YouTube with DMCA notices because it wants a better deal, and as a content owner it has that right. And YouTube is taking advantage of the leeway it has under the law.

Copyright law is a trade-off, as it should be, between the rights of a content creator and/or owner, and the broader interests of society in being able to make use of that content. Just as Napster was before it, YouTube is caught at the intersection of those two opposing forces.

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About mathewi

I'm the chief digital writer at the Columbia Journalism Review in New York, and a former writer for Fortune magazine and the Globe and Mail newspaper.

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