Some of the biggest and most respected Web services have come to the aid of Google and YouTube, which are defending themselves against accusations that they violated copyright on a grand scale. Yahoo, Facebook and eBay on Wednesday filed a friends-of-the-court brief in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. That’s where Viacom, parent company of MTV Networks and Paramount Pictures, filed a USD 1bn copyright lawsuit against Google in March 2007. The three companies have urged District Judge Louis Stanton to dismiss Viacom’s suit, arguing that the Digital Millennium Copyright Act protects Internet service providers from liability for copyright violations committed by users. They say that a decision against Google could stifle the growth of important Internet services. Viacom alleges that YouTube, which Google acquired in 2006, encouraged users to upload unauthorized clips from Paramount Pictures, Comedy Central, and MTV Networks to the video-sharing site. Those clips helped YouTube attract users as well as generate ad sales, Viacom claims. The amicus brief filed on Wednesday follows a similar type of filing made by NBC Universal, Warner Bros., Disney, the Screen Actors Guild, and Directors Guild of America on behalf of Viacom. That so many powerhouse companies are weighing in is testament to the importance of the case. The court’s decision will likely help establish copyright law as it applies to the Web
An organization that collects royalties for musicians and songwriters wants YouTube to remove hundreds of videos in a dispute over how much the Web site pays for music used on its site. A group representing Germany’s performing artists and musicians has called on online video Web site YouTube to remove 600 videos it says are being “used illegally.” GEMA, an organization that represents 60,000 German songwriters, composers, and music publishers, charges Web and airwave broadcasters a fee each time they use a piece of music produced by one of their members. It had been in negotiations with YouTube owners Google for the past year, trying to come up with a successor to their last contract, which expired on April 1. GEMA and its international partners represent the rights-holders for up to 60 percent of the world’s music. It collects more than EUR 800m in fees per year, from everything from doctor’s offices where music is played in waiting rooms to discos and radio stations. Google said it was “disappointed” by GEMA’s decision. It said that if it paid the group’s asking price, it would lose money every time someone watched a clip by a professional musician
A news agency and a Haitian photographer are suing each other in New York over photographs the agency distributed across the world after they were loaded on to the Twitter micro-blogging site. The case is over photographs of the aftermath of the 12 January earthquake in Haiti taken by Haitian photojournalist Daniel Morel, according to an e-bulletin by Charles Swan of law firm Swan Turton. Morel, who was in a school in Port au Prince teaching students how to make their own Facebook page when the earthquake struck at 4.53 pm, took some of the first photographs of the devastation before sunset, Mr Swan reported. He managed to connect to the internet, opened a Twitter account – it was first foray into the social networking site – and uploaded a series of photographs. AFP picked the pictures up from Twitter that same evening and they appeared in numerous publications around the world. The main issue in the proceedings was whether by posting his photographs on Twitter Morel gave a licence to the world to use them, Swan said. AFP was relying on Twitter’s Terms of Service under which users grant Twitter a licence (with the right to sub-license) by submitting, posting or displaying content on or through the service, arguing that Twitter users intend their postings – known as tweets – to be publicly available and to be broadly distributed through the internet and other media. But Morel denied that posting his images online via Twitter gave rise to any licence to AFP to distribute them, and was claiming damages, including statutory damages of up to USD 150,000, for each infringement, against AFP and its North American and UK exclusive licensee, Getty Images
One study after another purports to chronicle how much intellectual property piracy hurts the economy, and contributes to every societal ill from terrorism to child porn and slavery. A new study unveiled Tuesday sets out to examine intellectual property in a different light: How fair use — which doesn’t require permission from the copyright holder — actually benefits the economy. The trade group, Computer & Communications Industry Association, in a follow-up to its 2007 report, asks: “What contribution is made to our economy by industries that depend on the limitations to copyright protection when engaged in commerce?” For the year 2007, the fair-use economy accounted for USD 4.7 trillion in revenue (.pdf) and USD 2.2 trillion in value added, roughly one-sixth the total gross domestic product of the United States, according to the study. The fair-use economy also employed more than 17 million people with a USD 1.2 trillion payroll. Fair-use-dependent industries include educational institutions, search engines, web hosting providers, software developers and device manufacturers, among others. The association’s membership includes Microsoft, Google, eBay, AMD, Yahoo, Oracle and others
Marmite is beginning legal action against the British National Party after an image of a Marmite jar was used on a political broadcast without its permission.
The jar featured in the top left-hand corner of a video shown on the BNP’s website.
The firm released a statement saying: “It has been brought to our attention that the British National Party has included a Marmite jar in a political broadcast shown currently online.
“We want to make it absolutely clear that Marmite did not give the BNP permission to use a pack shot of our product in their broadcast. Neither Marmite nor any other Unilever brand are aligned to any political party.
“We are currently initiating injunction proceedings against the BNP to remove the Marmite jar from the online broadcast and prevent them from using it in future.”
The video was publicly available on the BNP’s website on Thursday morning but now appears to have been removed
One of the most popular Internet memes of recent years looks to be coming to an end as YouTube has begun removing satirically subtitled clips of Downfall (Der Untergang), the award winning film by Oliver Hirschbiegel about the last days of Hitler’s regime. One scene in the film, where Hitler (played to wide acclaim by by Bruno Ganz) realises that the war is lost, has been used repeatedly to parody modern concerns, including getting banned from Xbox Live, Hitler finding out there is no Santa Claus and the leaking of the iPhone. All have now been withdrawn from YouTube. Ironically, one of the few Downfall parodies still left up is of Hitler complaining about all the Downfall parodies on the internet. Content owners will be watching the takedown carefully to see how the online community responds. With YouTube currently facing legal action over its use of copyrighted material on the site the efficacy of its removal procedures is under scrutiny and media owners may well see this as a signal to purge YouTube of unauthorised content
Copyright is not the only thing that matters online, says Bill Thompson
John Young is a brave and tenacious man, an architect based in New York whose website, cryptome.org, has been a safe online repository for documents that someone, somewhere does not want published. Since 1996 he has resisted pressure from governments, companies and individuals, using the strong protection against prior restraint provided by the US Bill of Rights to publish information about secret surveillance, spying, war crimes and many other topics.
Thanks to a robust policy on the part of his current internet service provider, his site has remained online despite the best efforts of those who are embarrassed by its contents. Until last month, that is, when cryptome.org disappeared from the internet after Network Solutions disabled access to the site’s domain.
Mr Young had not revealed military secrets that put the lives of soldiers at risk, or published the finer details of Britain’s nuclear deterrent capability. The document that got the site kicked offline was not a detailed map of the presidential escape route from the White House, or a list of the lobbyists who have visited Downing Street in the last year, but a 22-page document written by Microsoft. It details how US government agencies can request access to customer data stored on Microsoft servers, like your Hotmail messages, and Microsoft used copyright law to achieve what the US government could not.
The company has since withdrawn its complaint, noting that it only wanted one document removed and was not attempting to restrict access to the whole of Cryptome. Network Solutions has put it back online – with the offending file still present. But the fact that laws passed to protect the commercial interests of creators of original content can evidently have more force than national security concerns should make us all pause.
John Young is not the only one in trouble at the moment. My friend Mark Kobayashi-Hillary had uploaded more than 900 videos to YouTube over the years, most of them related to his specialist area of globalisation and outsourcing, but his account has been removed because of claims that he is infringing copyright.
After some investigation Mark has been told that since he has had three videos removed at the request of rights holders he is a “repeat offender”.
His account was terminated to comply with Federal law after comedian Jimmy Carr’s management company complained of a video he had taken at a recent Carr performance.
YouTube is a US company, so applying US rules seems reasonable, but there has been no legal process and his account was closed without any notice being given to him, so he had no opportunity to question it in advance. And what tips this particular case over from mere irritation into something worthy of Kafka is that the camera phone clip that got Mark’s account removed showed the audience waiting for Jimmy Carr to appear on stage, and not a second of the comic’s performance.
Yet Chambers Management claims that it holds the copyright in any material filmed inside the venue and so his video is infringing. I haven’t seen Mark’s ticket and it may well be that he has assigned copyright to the company by agreeing to the terms and conditions printed in one-point on the back, but even if this is so the absurdity remains.
Right is might
It seems that copyright, a legal framework developed over 300 years to ensure a balance between the interests of the wider community and those of the creative artist has become so tipped towards those of the “rights holder” that few of us can go through a day without breaking the law in one way or another.
The current debate over the Digital Economy Bill in the UK Parliament has revealed that provisions intended to protect the interests of rights-holders by forcing service providers whose networks are used to download unlicensed content to take preventive measures and face prosecution themselves could well force small businesses, universities and even public libraries to severely limit or even abandon their provision of free net access.
And people around the UK are still receiving letters from the legal firm ACS:Law accusing them of downloading material and asking for money to “settle” any claim without recourse to legal process, causing deep concern to many who feel that they are being unjustly accused and coerced into making payments through fear of a legal process they do not understand.
Elsewhere representatives of many governments, including the UK, are currently discussing the detailed provisions of ACTA, the “Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement”, although the exact details are being kept secret and we have only occasional leaks to go by.
ACTA began as an attempt to control the trade in counterfeit goods, which is laudable when applied to prescription medicines and less defensible when applied to cheap handbags. Unfortunately it has expanded in scope to cover digital counterfeiting, and intellectual property rights are apparently now central, offering the prospect that the sort of protections embodied in the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act, the provisions that obliged YouTube to pull a video when infringement is merely alleged, would apply worldwide.
This has got to stop. We have to say “enough is enough” to those who hold copyrights in songs and images and words and videos. We must refuse to remake the digital world in order to serve only their interests. There is so much more to online life than watching ripped-off copies of big-budget movies or looking at low-resolution cameraphone videos of bands.
We are on the verge of building so many restrictions into online activity that the creativity, inventiveness and sheer joy of life on the net will be squeezed out just to ensure that over-hyped comedians are able to censor videos of their fans waiting for the show to begin. This is not the way forward, but if we do not act now then it will shape the internet that we offer to the billions waiting to get online and change the world. It would be a tragedy if the network the people of East Africa found, now that they have fast fibre links to the rest of the internet, was locked-down, limited and restricted by laws passed to placate fearful Western rights holders and they decided, as a result, that it wasn’t worth joining.
Stephanie Lenz got into trouble with Universal Music Group in 2007 after she posted a YouTube video of her toddler dancing to the Prince song “Let’s Go Crazy.” The label fired off a letter demanding removal of the clip and Youtube complied. Lenz then teamed with online free-speech advocates at the Electronic Frontier Foundation to get a judge to declare that her video was a “fair use” of the song. She then sought damages against Universal, the world’s biggest record company, for sending a meritless takedown request. Universal fought back by raising affirmative defenses that Lenz had bad faith and unclean hands in pursuing damages. Now a California district court judge has rejected those arguments, granting partial summary judgment to Lenz and paving the way for Lenz to collect attorneys fees. The case is important because it raises the question of whether a media company can be held liable for pursuing a takedown without a full consideration of fair use. The decision by the court last Thursday is very technical and examines damage claims under a statutory code that deals with liability when misrepresentations are made about infringing works online. A preliminary read on the decision indicates that Lenz can recover legal fees associated with fighting the takedown, but not necessarily fees connected with the cost of pursuing Universal for damages in follow-up litigation. To really sock it to Universal, Lenz would have to make a claim under a code that awards fees at the court’s discretion. To do that, she will likely need to show Universal knowingly misrepresented its initial claim
The UK’s outdated copyright laws need to be reformed before they lose all credibility, a consumer watchdog said.
A study by Consumer Focus found three quarters of consumers (73%) do not know what they are legally allowed to copy or record.
Fewer than one in five (17%) knew it was illegal to copy a CD or DVD they had bought on to a computer for their own use, and even fewer (15%) knew it was illegal to copy them to an iPod, the poll found. Nearly four in 10 (38%) of those using either an iPod or MP3 admitted to copying CDs on to their player.
Most copyright law was written before digital technologies existed, but the pervasiveness of the new gadgets meant the laws now affected millions of UK consumers, the watchdog said. It found 80% of consumers thought copyright law should be updated to encompass digital technology, with slightly more (82%) keen to see reforms striking a fair balance between the interests of consumers and artists.
Consumer Focus international director Jill Johnstone said: “The credibility of UK copyright law has fallen through the floor. Millions of consumers are regularly copying CDs or DVDs and are unaware they are breaching copyright law. “The world has moved on and reform of copyright law is inevitable, but it’s not going to update itself. If the Government wants consumers to respect copyright law they have to stop sitting on their hands and bring the law in line with the real world.”
Consumer Focus said it did not condone the infringement of copyright law and supported the Government’s view that “most people, given a reasonable choice, would prefer not to do wrong or break the law”. The organisation wants to see “fair use right” exceptions introduced that would allow consumers to make copies of copyrighted work they have bought, provided they are for non-commercial use – such as copying CDs or DVDs to play on a different device.
It says fair use rights would protect copyright holders while providing exceptions to copying that cause no or minimal economic harm. Delays to updating UK laws to allow the EU to define non-commercial use would damage the credibility of copyright law further, it added.
The British Library has launched its UK Web Archive to capture and record thousands of UK web sites, but has warned that the future of the project is at risk owing to copyright legislation. The project has been in development since 2004, and contains sites that would otherwise be lostd. British Library chief executive Dame Lynne Brindley said that the project had already captured and preserved 6,000 sites in an effort to avoid a “digital black hole” in UK web history. However, the project is facing difficulties as material that is freely available on the web is still subject to copyright and cannot be archived without permission from each site’s owner. Dame Brindley warned that the British Library will be able to collect only one per cent of the 8.8 million .co.uk domain address that will exist by 2011 unless the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) steps in. “We hope that the DCMS consultation will enact the 2003 Legal Deposit Libraries Act and extend the provision of legal deposit through regulation to cover freely available UK web sites, providing regular snapshots of the free UK web domain,” she said. The issue is compounded by new research estimating that the average life expectancy of a web site is just 44 to 75 days, and that 10 per cent of all UK web sites are lost or replaced by new material every six months.