The U.S. Supreme Court may have its hands full with some interesting media cases down the road. They may be soon taking on a case from Fox who’s suing the FCC and could ultimately shape what we’ll all be seeing on prime-time network television in the coming decade. Now the Court may get a case of Google defending their ownership of Youtube against one media behemoth that isn’t happy about Google not removing certain copyrighted videos from Youtube. It does pose an interesting question about why Google hasn’t brought down copyrighted works like they promised they’d do when they bought Youtube a number of years back. Google must have been listening to the fans of Youtube who said at the time of the Google/Youtube acquisition that the whole spirit of the popular video upload site is that you can find things you can’t find anywhere else.
Of course, when you provide things others don’t, feet are going to be stepped on in the metaphorical sense of copyrights. Depending which side you’re on, copyrights might be looked at as being close to moot in the Internet world of late when the Internet still is (and likely always will be) an unregulated environment. That’s the road Google is taking with the realization of why people made Youtube successful in the first place. Other media-sharing sites didn’t have the guts to put things that clearly had copyrights on them so those who couldn’t see them via various circumstances could. However, we all remember when Google bought Youtube and promised they’d implement software that would automatically detect copyrighted works posted on the site. Then we heard nothing more of it.
That’s because Google understood that if they started removing copyrighted works, people would leave to all the other media-sharing sites like Flickr where copyrighted works aren’t always removed, though probably have slightly better regulation. Youtube might have to be looked at as one of the first quasi outlaw media sites. But it sent a strong message about copyrights and how the Internet is shaping itself: Media companies need to get over their obsession with every little ounce of protection when it comes to their media that the masses shouldn’t have to do without.
It isn’t enough for Youtube to survive based on visitors watching ordinary (or is it abnormal?) people screaming into the camera to leave Britney alone or doing 1,001 celebrity impressions. Yes, those always make it to the front page on the site, but it belies all the media riches that can be found internally once you use the search feature. A lot of old clips from classic TV shows that are undoubtedly still under copyright make it to Youtube daily. It’s material that the people who still hold the copyrights for will likely never release commercially anyway, so Youtube is the perfect home for a lot of forgotten fragments of television from the 70’s and 80’s recorded by people who owned primitive versions of the VCR or Beta recorders.
For newer media clips, Google has pointed out in recent years that Youtube has been cooperating with movie studios and TV networks to create a symbiotic process to copyright law. The networks and movie studios allow the free use of movie clips and TV shows for promotion, and Youtube’s huge audience will help make those TV shows and movies more of a hit thanks to the clips being there in the first place. It all seemed to be a perfect partnership and solution to copyright entanglements.
So what exactly happened that will lead Google to defend their Youtube possibly in the Supreme Court against a media giant who wants their share of the copyright pie?
What the Supreme Court may have to take on…
About a year ago from the time of this writing, Viacom decided to sue Google for 1 BILLION (yes, put your pinky to your lips) dollars because Youtube was allowing users to upload endless amounts of Viacom-owned media. Apparently there was never any conferral with Viacom on making a symbiotic type of deal that would help in the promotional process. Perhaps there was already a steadfast negative response if Google had already been working with them in the past as they have with other big media companies. Overall, it seems that Viacom is standing alone in trying to disrupt the flow of what’s working so well on Youtube.
And that’s the stance Google is taking with this case. They’ve built a defense that proves they do work within the law and only allow media that helps to stimulate what you might call the economy of the Internet. Just as in the real world economy, you need to provide tools for people to make the economy thrive. If there isn’t anything there, people go elsewhere and subsequently create a chain-reaction of failure. The Internet is built almost the same way as our real economy now with a web of sites that have built a reputation for providing certain content that helps everybody else.
Viacom doesn’t seem to understand that process and may just bring down the Internet as we know it should they win in a prolonged court fight. It’s likely, too, that this lawsuit will go to the Supreme Court just as Google has said recently. We should have seen it coming when corporations get more controlling over their properties and keep things tied up in red tape when all involved want to squeeze every cent they can out of their media and into their wallets. Whatever outcome comes from it will also help shape how we view the Internet for years to come. The same goes for that Fox vs. FCC ruling.
While a lot of people fear what the Supreme Court will do, I see the justices ultimately siding with Google/Youtube with some provisions. Perhaps the compromise will be in Google working closer with Viacom to create that symbiotic relationship Youtube has with so many other media companies. It might involve the sacrifice of some things and negotiations on others so Viacom can benefit and Youtube can maintain its flow of visitors. Ultimately, though, I foresee the Supreme Court realizing that the major players on the Internet have a certain structure that needs to be maintained or risk a domino effect of disruption. I can’t imagine the Supreme Court would want to complicate copyright matters either when those matters are already out of control with mounting cases in litigation hell.
Just this Youtube decision alone would put a new spin on copyrights for media placed on the web. It would proclaim loud and clear that the Internet is for the public, by the public. Those who demand copyright compensation in every media will have to learn to sacrifice some for the sake of freedom.