No Winners in the Battle for the Internet
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It is now so simple to share copyrighted material online that the big motion picture companies and record labels insist that file sharers are all but driving them out of business. Lawsuits abound. This article examines one of the more prominent suits, Viacom's $1 billion case against Google's YouTube, and considers probable outcomes in light of the current digital culture.
In the beginning there was Napster. Back in 1999 Shawn Fanning and his colleagues blew the Internet wide open when they launched their peer to peer file sharing network, to accusations of widespread copyright violations. Inevitably it all ended a couple of years later in a devastating court judgment that effectively drove Napster out of business.
Kazaa followed Napster into court, where they lost to the tune of $100 million. Likewise Audiogalaxy, who only avoided a similar fate by settling first for a "substantial sum" that turned out to be everything they owned. But with the entertainment industry still unsatisfied -- and as far as ever from coming to terms with the implications of the Internet for traditional media distribution models -- the gloves are off again. Only this time the stakes have been raised to another level, with Viacom's announcement last year of its intention to sue video sharing web site YouTube for $1 billion.
On the face of it, the issues are much the same as usual when an industry giant such as Viacom, who can boast revenues of over $13 billion in 2007, takes on a file sharing site. Viacom alleges massive copyright violations, claiming that the site hosts over 150,000 clips of its material which, they say, have been watched a staggering 1.5 billion times. The company also accuses YouTube of being unable to keep track of the unauthorized material on the site.
In its defense, YouTube claims it has abided by the terms of the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which requires service providers to respond quickly to reports of copyright infringement. The subtext to all this, as ever, is the long-running ideological question of whether service providers are responsible for the actions of the users of their services.
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