Friday, September 15, 2006

Copyright implications of the social web


Several sites are reporting that Doug Morris, CEO of Universal Music, has been complaining about rampant copyright infringement in websites such as YouTube and MySpace. Mr Morris stated that: "We believe these new businesses are copyright infringers and owe us tens of millions of dollars. How we deal with these companies will be revealed shortly." Expect a horde of corporate lawyers to descend upon the infringing sites and start hacking them into tiny pieces with large axes and very thin watches.

It's not difficult to read these comments and snort derisively. Universal and their ilk are dinosaurs, or more accurately, they resemble coelcanths, living fossils if you may. They may survive, but their business models are proving to be increasingly at odds with the rapid movement of what we now call cyberspace. Wikipedia, Blogger, MySpace and YouTube have exposed what some call the democratisation of the means of distribution of content. In a world where everyone with an Internet connection can be a publisher, the old distributors and intermediaries are looking preposterously old-fashioned. By claiming that they still control the means of distribution through copyright infringement suits, it seems like they are trying to fight the new models with old legal tools.

Does Universal have a case? As I have mentioned before, YouTube's legal status seems to be very strong, which makes any sort of litigation an uncertain matter for the plaintiff. As IPKat has commented as well, it is difficult to fathom what is the claimed lost revenue from a person posting a low-quality music video in YouTube. The potential for bad PR amongst the technocratic elites should not be underestimated either. Angering the geek masses can be a very bad idea, as Metallica found to their detriment after the Napster fiasco.

The geek shall inherit the earth. Get over it.

2 comments:

rogerd said...

I think the music companies are quite determined about this, and I'm not so sure that YouTube's legal position is unassailable. If nothing else, the music companies could tie them up in litigation for years. I think some kind of settlement is inevitable.

Andres Guadamuz said...

YouTube has a good case as it regularly complies with DMCA notices, hence it has safe harbor status in the USA. But I agree that lengthy litigation may prove to be problematic for their business model.