Tuesday, June 3, 2008

On Viacom and YouTube

[Here is a story from Techdirt]

I knew this Viacom thing was still going on, but I'd bet that I'm in the minority. What the story above says really, is that Viacom is cutting off their own head with this lawsuit against YouTube. If they win, it's not going to be that easy.
Viacom knows that YouTube is a valuable partner, but they simply cannot stand the fact that even a small bit of their unauthorized content would appear on the service. You, as well as I have seen that Viacom properties appear on YouTube in an authorized manner. Viacom is happy as a pig in poop about that, but they don't seem to understand how difficult that it can be to ensure that infringing content is blocked. They want us to believe that all you need to do is put up a few filters and then it's all going to be peachy. Now, do I really think they believe that? Hell no. What I can believe though, is that with the (somewhat unremarkable) success of the sites like Hulu.com that Viacom and the old media companies are wearing rose colored glasses when it comes to managing content on the web. (In truth I'm impressed with Hulu, and I use it a lot. The first time is used it I was most of the way through an episode of Firefly before I realized that I was using Firefox, and that I didn't even give up as much as an email address.)
But, what do I think is at the heart of the matter? I hope you can tell already. Viacom is the point man for war that has been going on in the music arena for more than half a decade. The television and movie companies are laboring under the assumption that if Viacom wins this suit that they'll finally be able to gain some ground on this digital piracy thing. They seem to believe that they won't suffer the same destruction to their business model that music has had to suffer through. They think that somehow, they have found this problem earlier than the music industry did, and that if they take down YouTube, people will flock to their pitiful little offerings, and the war will be over. Their strategies include forcing the hand of other countries -- through the World Trade Organization and other entities, and a promise to injure the growth and prosperity of the country being threatened if they don't comply.
Make no mistake, Viacom believes that it can win this suit if it simply changes its argument enough to suit a sitting judge. Once they do, the storm will come. Their ultimate goal is to have the Safe Harbor provisions of the DMCA scrutinized to the point that the offerings from the RIAA and MPAA will be accepted as law by Congress. The only thing standing in their way are the hugely popular and legitimate companies and business models that have enough money to fight this sort of lawsuit. If YouTube goes down it will all start to fall apart. Yes, there will fallout, and yes, there will rise from the ashes of YouTube any number of sites to take their place, but the rolling juggernaut will crush them one by one and leave new, tailored laws in their place. Then once the industry feels it's going fast enough, and is big enough, it will finally begin to attack and destroy entire protocols like BitTorrent. Within a decade, the Internet will look like the cable TV of today: Tied up in a wickerwork of regulations and FCC restrictions on use, with dwindling funds for local, and amateur access.

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