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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

omg: Hollywood secretly embraces the power of piracy

Viacom does, at least.

It’s from a couple weeks back but I just discovered it, a post by Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing about the lawsuit in which Viacom is suing Google “for $1 billion for not having copyright lawyers inspect all the videos that get uploaded to YouTube before they’re made live.” Here we find this fascinating tidbit (emphasis mine):

The lawsuit has been a circus. Filings in the case reveal that Viacom paid dozens of marketing companies to clandestinely upload its videos to YouTube (sometimes “roughing them up” to make them look like pirate-chic leaks). Viacom uploaded so much of its content to YouTube that it actually lost track of which videos were “really” pirated, and which ones it had put there, and sent legal threats to Google over videos it had placed itself.

I don’t see how it can be that Viacom hasn’t shot itself in the foot with this. Viacom isn’t just crying wolf: it has actually trained some poor tormented wolf who’d rather be left alone to harass the townsfolk on a regular basis in order to lend credence to the wolf-crying.

I’ve said it before, more than once: When pristine copies of movies show up online days before a film opens, the only place such a file could have come from is inside a studio’s own labs and/or offices. But now we have to suspect even the apparently shaky camcordered versions. This is way beyond “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.” There are lots of ways that Hollywood could harness the power of the Internet and the hunger of audiences to watch content on their own terms. Demonizing audiences and then engaging in the same behaviors it’s condemning its customers for is probably not the best way to do that.

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  • McFeely

    The tactics here are asinine. I’m surprised they weren’t literally thrown out of court. This is like someone sending a box of cocaine ups to someone then calling the cops on them for having it as soon as its delivered.

  • Demyan

    Let me try cracking the mystery: Viacom was objecting to people posting clips of Southpark, Daily Show, etc., while anonymously posting clips of shows in need of marketing? Makes sense to me. In fact, even if they were posting clips of Southpark, Daily Show etc., just to help a lawsuit against YouTube, it would have made sense too.

    The wolf analogy seems mightily confused, and the implication that there were no wolves other than the “pretend” one is at odds with abundance of copyright-infringing content on YouTube – facilitated for as long as possible by YouTube, as disclosed during the case.

    “Pristine copies of movies showing up on the internet” have nothing to do with this, if you are aware of the difference between intentional, legal, marketing-minded distribution of content by the copyright owner, and piracy, or theft, whether done by studio employees or outsiders.

  • DaveTM

    While blanketing YouTube with clips to the point where you don’t even know which ones you put there is stupid. But there is a grain of smart at the center. Posting one or two videos and strictly documenting the process would make perfect sense to prove their case of how easy YouTube made it to post illegal videos. I’d equate it to 20/20 or 48 hours sending in a hidden camera. Then I’m sure some idiot that they pay too much money to caught wind of the idea and thought if one or two clips were good then a hundred clips was great.

  • This is where publishers and producers can’t grasp the concept of fanworks as being POSITIVE means of promoting their works rather than theft.

  • RyanMcN

    Hmm, maybe Google needs to speak with the police? A billion dollar fraud case might be just the thing to slap down the movie industry’s idiocy over copyright enforcement.

  • @Demyan

    I agree there is a strange tone to this post as if it’s condoning piracy, but the underlining issue has nothing to do with copyright violation or fair use laws.

    The issue with this is that Viacom bungled it’s effort to find evidence in its case against Google/YouTube.

    Uploading videos held under copyright that explicitly forbid distribution by anyone other than the copyright holder and its proxies is an illegal act and Viacom has the right to pursue legal action against those responsible.

    But going after Google/YouTube is like going after the owner of a park with Permitting Drug Abuse charges because some teens sold cocaine there. The park, or in our case Google, is providing a public venue with a legitimate purpose. The only way you can really go after them for illegal acts is if they somehow encouraged it to occur. Like signs, saying “The Police Never Come Here!” or “Perfect Place To Buy Drugs!”

    Viacom’s case seems to be that Google is not actively trying to *prevent* people from committing an illegal act at it’s public venue, and therefore is complicit in the copyright infringement.

    Personally, I don’t think that’s a legitimate angle to take, but I’m not a lawyer. It seems to me that Google does nothing to encourage copyright infringement, and it complies with requests to remove content that is reported to be in violation of copyright. I don’t understand how it should be expected to do more. It probably CAN do more, just as the park owner can set up video cameras and hire security guards to patrol, but just because something illegal CAN happen, doesn’t make it a legal imperative that it MUST be prevented.

    Otherwise you could be liable for people breaking into your own house because you didn’t put bars on the windows.

    Anyway, Viacom screwed up because if they upload their own content to You Tube, since THEY are the copyright holders, their copyright is not technically being infringed by it being broadcast on YouTube. And since they can’t remember which content they uploaded in order prove it was possible, there is now reasonable doubt that ALL of Viacom’s copyright protected content on YouTube was legitimately uploaded. So they pretty much have no case at all anymore.

    Yay, stupid corporations.

    Anyway, I think this case was ruled on already. Google was declared not liable.

  • DaveTM

    TempestDash – you make a few good points however Viacom and others have complained that their attempts to get their copywrited materials off of YouTube have been either ignored or the process is horribly slow at points and even if they uploaded it themselves if they own the copyright and say take it down and Google doesn’t then Google could be said to be liable.

    Also the case did get a ruling for Google but of course it has been appealed by Viacom so it still keeps going.

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