Google finally taken to task

Finally some sanity. I read today that Google (and its subsidiary Youtube) are to be sued by entertainment giant Viacom for copyright infringement. The BBC website says this:

Viacom, which owns MTV and Nickelodeon, says YouTube uses its shows illegally. Viacom alleges that about 160,000 unauthorised clips of its programmes have been loaded onto YouTube’s site and viewed more than 1.5 billion times. As well as more than $1bn in damages, the legal action seeks an injunction to prevent what Viacom calls “massive intentional copyright infringement”.

This has been a pet irritation of mine for the last six months, as these companies have pursued a policy of deliberatly undermining copyright law on the internet, with the knock on effect of facililating the knuckle-dragging morons that populate internet discussion forums arguing that there’s nothing wrong with stealing copyright material.

Why do I care? Well, Google video is currently hosting several full length illegally uploaded DVDs made by my martial arts instructor. Some half wit decided to upload them “as a service to everyone that’s interested” but these titles are commercially for sale and the viewing figures for them online are enormous. It’s hard not to come to the conclusion that the fact they are availble for free online is seriously damaging their sales.

Now, I don’t have shares in the company that produces them, so arguably it’s none of my business, but I personally know the person being shafted and I don’t believe in turning away when I see a wrong being perpetrated. So when I saw these DVDs were illegally online, myself and a few others tried to contact Google to let them know. I naively thought that they probably had a fair usage policy that had been breached and that once it was drawn to their attention, they’d have them pulled.

Well, not so. You see, under the Google terms and conditions anyone can upload content, but only the authorized copyright holder can lodge a complaint if copyright has been breached. In this case, the person who holds the copyright is a Japanese man in his 70s who doesn’t even own a computer let alone surf Google, Youtube and Ebay randomly enforcing his intellectual copyright. (To cut a long story short, a third friend was authorized with legal power of attorney to complain about this, and it’s currently being dealt with. Ditto the people on ebay selling illegal copies of the same material.)

But actually in this case the principle is more important than the problem. Youtube decided to unilaterally ignore copyright law and allow people to upload broadcast content that is obviously under copyright to the internet and then made it hard to complain about. It wasn’t interested in what was morally or ethically right, but only with what it could get away with. Google then bought Youtube in full knowledge of this.

I depend on copyright to make a living. When I write an article, I get paid not for the article, but actually for the right to publish it – in essence I’m leasing the article for a short period of time and granting the purchaser the right to publish it once. In the past, I’ve had to chase up many companies that have reproduced my work on their websites to point out to them that it’s not their property and it’s not free.

Thankfully, I’ve never had to sue anyone, but I happily would because the principle is extremely important. As it is, there are genuinely large numbers of people out there who really don’t understand why they can’t just download movies, music and books from the web? They think that the people that want to stop them are just spoilsports, or should lighten up. I wonder how they’d feel if I hacked their bank account and ripped them off. Hey, what’s your problem – lighten up? : )

I know that’s silly, but you can see how it doesn’t help when global behemoths like Google and Youtube attempt to bulldoze through international law to normalise this. It creates a culture of acceptance and expectation amongst the general public, and even where it is the so-called large corporations-that-can-afford-to-lose-a-few-quid, it’s still wrong. So I hope they get their asses handed to them in court.

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