Google wins game that already played out

June 24, 2010

Google’s victory in the closely-watched lawsuit launched by Viacom alleging the Internet giant let users upload copyrighted videos including “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” to YouTube represents a win in a game that played out long ago.

The impact of the three-year old case,  some legal experts reckon,  occurred well before a U.S. District Court in Manhattan threw out Viacom’s $1 billion suit.   (Viacom said it is appealing the case.)

As these things tend to go, the case exhibits how technology outpaces the legal system by miles.

“I think to a certain extent the [media] industry has moved on,” said Kimberley Isbell, a staff attorney with the Citizen Media Law Project based at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University. “I think many of the studios have come around to the idea YouTube and Hulu and other sites like this can be a good promotional tool.”

Indeed, months after Viacom, home to MTV and Paramount Studios, filed the lawsuit against Goggle and YouTube  in the early part of 2007 several media and tech/Internet companies partnered up and agreed on a set of principles to lock down on copyright infringement while encouraging viewership.

While Google didn’t sign on, it came to the table with its own technology measures that now are used widely, said Isbell.

It certainly appeared that while Google and Viacom were fighting it out in the courts,  they were working together behind the scenes toward a solution. YouTube removed hundreds and thousands of videos shortly after Viacom issued a request to remove the the material.

“YouTube has gone out of its way on its own initiative to introduce various technologies… that give copyright owners a voice to remove [content] or monetize it,” said Anthony Falzone, executive director of the Fair Use Project at Stanford Law School.

Falzone suggested that it makes a lot more sense for aggregators and media companies to find some level of cooperation — to stay the course both sides embarked upon a while ago as the case wound its way through the legal system.

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