Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Google Asked for It; the Blogosphere is Paying for It

It had to happen sooner or later: Youtube is being hit for a billion dollars by Viacomm in a nasty lawsuit, money Viacomm is probably more than happy to pry from Google's hands. More importantly, it's the media's message to the internet: stop the copyright infringements or else. In some ways, it's just like what happened to Napster and other internet music (stealing) software, except for the fact that youtube - in large part - has an almost altruistic sense: catching a moment of truth on film. Obviously, the potential loss of youtube has serious implications for bloggers (and readers) everywhere. Expect a lot of deleted content, which sucks not only for blogging, but also the truth.

This battle isn't new. The blogosphere recently fought a huge campaign against C-SPAN - and largely won. C-SPAN was trying to claim that it owned the rights to congressional floor debates, despite the fact that government cameras were used to film the speeches. However, C-SPAN largely caved into the blogosphere (and Nancy Pelosi) because they had no legal leg to stand on, since the government truly owned the rights to those videos. The fight didn't really clear up any standard practices of acceptable internet video usage, so here we are with a much bigger challenge to online videos.

The question of standards is still there, practically omnipresent as almost every blogger has violated copyrights at some point or another (basically everyone that's posted a youtube, for starters). Obviously, something is wrong here and things need to change: the copyright policies of old just don't mix with internet reality. Since it's in the public's best interest to allow some content to be posted online, we may need to go back and take a look at copyright policies.

Do bloggers go too far? Certainly, many of them do. Way too many blogs print paragraphs and paragraphs from newspapers - or even the entire story. Posting 10 or 20 minute videos (since they truly aren't clips at that point) is equally offensive. However, more and more bloggers are realizing that hypocrisy and have changed suit. You don't see any gigantic postings from columns on Kos, BMG or any other respectable blogs nowadays (including mine).

There aren't any easy answers. A lot of what exists currently is solid. For example, blogs are allowed to quote up to three paragraphs from any newspaper story. Three paragraphs is a lot, but not so much that it infringes on the media's investment in creating the story. Blogs can now post unlimited amounts of videos from C-SPAN's coverage of Senate and House floor debates . However, that leaves a gaping hole in ability to use print photos and clips from the telly. Currently, the only legal usage of clips have to be eight seconds or less. At best, eight seconds would make us no better than a CNN or Fox News - companies that use tiny quotes that take things out of context and don't really tell the story. Yet, extremely long clips are unfair for the businesses that actually pay for these operations. Furthermore, is there any fair way to use pictures at all?

I only see two ways out of this mess for both bloggers and the media - none of which help Google. The first is possibility is to create a fair compromise position. Leaders in the blogosphere and media could come together and develop a fair new practices, or perhaps the government could get involved. Surely, both sides can come up with some kind of compromise position: for example, maybe posted video clips could be limited to 2 minutes of total time from a single episode. A new policy could help all sides: bloggers could be allowed to tell their story without worry, while the media would benefit from online viral buzz - essentially free advertisement.

The only other way for companies to stop the rampant copyright infringement is for each company to create a service that could not only compete with youtube, but be even better. If Viacomm or Turner Broadcasting doesn't want people posting videos of their content online, they're going to have to provide new services for people to embed content directly to their own websites. However, the companies would have to offer almost the entire episode on TV and do it in a way that people could pick and choose what clips - from the entire episode - they could post. Otherwise, if companies only offer a few minutes here and a few minutes there, peopel will look to independent videos anyway. If people could go to ComedyCentral.com and pick any 2 minute clip from last night's Daily Show and post it on their websites, they would. While this option has a lot of potential for bloggers and companies (the one's with the best websites would get the most viewers), it would also be prohibitively expensive to create that kind of a website.

Sadly, for youtube's case, none of these solutions could ever come in place in time to save it from Viacomm. Youtube seems doomed to lose its dominance as the place to go for bloggers. While Google has no ability to prevent people from posting copyright material, that was by design. It's what made the website so great. However, when Google bought the company and suddenly a mega-corporation owned it, it almost assuredly became a target. It's one thing for a couple of geeks to run a website with vagrant violations; it's another for a huge company. Based on the fact that Napster's defense failed years ago, Viacomm is likely going to win this round. Google will probably settle out of court.

Once that happens - and other companies realize they can sue too - Google will almost surely change how youtube works or at the very least quickly delete videos almost as soon as their posted. In other words, youtube as a means to post important viral clips online to influence the news and politics seems poised to die. It's actually been dying for a while. However, if some kind of compromise or new use of technology isn't advanced, companies will never be able to stop new youtubes from emerging - there are already several companies on the rise. It's in the media's best interest to work with the blogosphere in creating a fair compromise on posting content online, because not even a billion-dollar lawsuit is going to scare people from reporting the truth.

1 comment:

Urban said...

Yeah. There's also the question of what people are actually paying for in terms of news. People pay for three things 1)recency 2)legitimacy and 3)interpretation. The blogosphere does not detract from these things, and won't really cost people any money. Dave Holtzman is somebody who blogs a lot on intellectual property and he made a funny case for this a while ago blogging and snogging

He also has a bunch of interesting IP articles directly about Google vs. Viacomm which you are worth checking out: intellectual property

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