Google, YouTube and Copyright


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In a rather stunning move, Google recently purchased the popular video site YouTube The question many are asking is how Google will deal with the potential copyright violations on the site?

To show you how much the Internet has changed in a relatively short amount of time, it is important to look back at the last big public medium that had copyright issues. In this case, we are talking about Napster. As you know, Napster was a system where music could be traded by people for free. This, of course, drove the record labels and artists crazy. If people were trading the music for free, royalties and revenues were not being produced. To quell the uprising, the music industry went after Napster and even individual users, claiming that the copyright for the musical pieces was being violated. As you also know, the record companies won the fight.

Now consider YouTube. From just about any angle, YouTube appears to be the Napster of the online video industry. The obvious difference is that many people will simply upload their own videos and creations to the site. In such circumstances, it's obvious that nobody can complain that there is a copyright violation because people have voluntarily put it up on the site. The problem that arises, however, is when people go ahead and upload videos and other matter from television, DVDs, and so on. Based on the various legal precedents set in the Napster case, it would appear that copyright claims can be made against YouTube.

So, why would Google risk purchasing YouTube? Does it really want to risk being sued to high heaven? Google assures everyone that the copyright problems are no big deal, but its rumored action tell a different story. Depending upon the media you are reading, Google has supposedly set aside between $200 and $500 million dollars to deal with copyright claims. That is an absolute ton of money and represents a certain lack of faith by Google on the copyright issues. So, will Google actually end up paying out most of this money? The chances seem slim. To understand why, we need to find an answer to the question of what makes YouTube different from Napster?

Ironically, the law really has not changed in any noticeable way. The primary thing that is different is us as a society. It goes without saying that the record industry took a beating on the public relations front when it started suing kids in relation to the Napster litigation. The backlash from that process led to a situation where companies began reassessing such heavy handed tactics. In concert with this, online music sites where you could buy individual songs proved a huge success. Throw in the Ipod and the future became clear. For mainstream entertainment groups, the internet was no longer a nasty word.

Instead of trying to beat down companies like YouTube with copyright claims, entertainment groups will seek out mutually profitable solutions. In fact, Google has already announced such deals and you can expect a lot more in the future. Will there still be copyright disputes? Sure, but they should be fairly nominal. The real question is what will happen to the concept of copyright as it is applied to the net. Although hardly a psychic, I think I am hardly out of line in predicting it will change dramatically over the next five to 10 years. In fact, I tend to think the legal concept of copyright may be applied by a more specific set of rules applicable just to the net. For many online sites, this would prove to be a positive move.

Gerard Simington is with - an online intellectual property law information and attorney directory.


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