Viacom Vs. Media Fans: No One Wins - InformationWeek

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3/14/2007
04:34 PM
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Viacom Vs. Media Fans: No One Wins

You know, now that it's out of the theaters, I imagine I'll probably rent the film Letters from Iwo Jima at some point. I've heard it's a great picture. However, if I didn't feel like renting it from Netflix or some similar service, and didn't care about copyright and ethics, I could always go to the Internet and download a copy. You say that Via

You know, now that it's out of the theaters, I imagine I'll probably rent the film Letters from Iwo Jima at some point. I've heard it's a great picture. However, if I didn't feel like renting it from Netflix or some similar service, and didn't care about copyright and ethics, I could always go to the Internet and download a copy. You say that Viacom is suing Google for copyright infringement on YouTube, and so I won't be able to find it? I'm sorry, did I say anything about the Web?Since it broke out of its original military/academic/science ghetto back in 1985 (and probably before), the Internet has been the resource for media fans to exchange their collections of music, films, and video among themselves and either their friends or the public at large. (We won't even begin to cover the exchange of code; that's a subject for a whole other discussion.) Files went back and forth via e-mail lists, BBSs, and networks such as FidoNet. They were uploaded to Usenet. They were grabbed from BitTorrent. And they were found on YouTube and other video sites.

This, quite naturally, has irritated the industries that make their fortunes selling music, films, and video. And one can hardly blame them; the idea that thousands of computer users may be downloading free copies of your product rather than adding to your profit margin is a highly upsetting one. And I'm certainly not defending the practice -- I have friends who write novels for a living, and if all their readers started picking up free downloads of their books, most of them would be very poor very quickly.

The problem, as I see it, is that the media companies seem to feel they can douse a forest fire by trying to blow it out one tree at a time. They are defending their copyrights by suing the copyright violators to make them stop. Their problem is that the copyright violators aren't really YouTube and BitTorrent -- they are all the people at the other end who are uploading and downloading all those media files. But does Viacom really want to start suing all those John and Jane Does ?

Probably not. Since 2005, the RIAA has sued Kazaa users for trading copyrighted songs. While most of the defendants (not surprisingly) have settled out of court -- and while the resulting publicity has probably discouraged some downloaders -- the spectacle of a huge corporation going after home health aides and other less-than-wealthy civilians didn't win it a lot of good will. (Incidentally, some of those cases are still going on; for example, Marie Lindor, the health aide in question, is one of the few who has not settled, and her case is expected to go to trial sometime this year.)

So Viacom sues the company that, it says, allows all this illegal commerce to continue. But this hasn't affected the more determined (and computer-savvy) people who use Usenet and other under-the-radar venues. And if Viacom is successful in its quest to force Google to, somehow, police YouTube more thoroughly, I'm sure there is another technology just around the corner that will be as eagerly adopted by the media fans out there -- until that, too, is stymied by legal means. And so we go.

Do I know the answer? No -- otherwise, my name would probably be on Google's top hits list. Some very smart people have tried to find alternatives such as Creative Commons licenses which, for example, allow people to copy material for non-commercial use. But this hasn't stopped the nasty waltz between those companies who want to protect their copyrights -- no matter what -- and those users who want complete and free access to all media productions -- no matter what. And that isn't doing anyone any good.

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