More copyright lawsuits for YouTube

Add England’s Football Association Premier League as the latest group to sue YouTube for violating copyright law.

Responding to the suit, Google’s general counsel, Kent Walker, said via email that “these suits simply misunderstand the (DMCA), which balances the rights of copyright holders against the need to protect Internet communications. As a result, they threaten the way people legitimately exchange information.”

It appears that defining YouTube as a “service provider” under DMCA regulations will be Google/YouTube’s main defense in these copyright infringement cases. But will a judge and jury accept that YouTube can be defined as a mere service provider under DMCA parameters? The DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act), which was passed in 1998 under President Clinton, relieves ISPs or web hosts of liability if one of their hosted sites violates copyright law. Under DMCA, as long as the ISP immediately removes the illegal content and in some cases terminates the offending sites account, then the ISP is not liable for the actions of the hosted site.

When YouTube’s CEO Chad Hurley was asked about YouTube’s copyright violations by New Jersey Republican, Rep. Mike Ferguson at a May 10th hearing on Capitol Hill, Hurley defended the site’s practices as in compliance with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

I believe, as others do, that YouTube is misapplying the DMCA. Under their interpretation the burden is the copyright holders alone. The copyright holder has to maintain constant vigilance against infringement. While this may be true to some degree, YouTube is also basically saying here that they believe no law is broken as long as they receive no notice that a specific video is violating copyright. What if the copyright holder is unaware of the infringement and does not ask for removal, is there then no liability?

The truth is, copyright law is broken as soon as one party uses the copyrighted work of another without permission. Further, the law is broken, not at the moment the copyright holder becomes aware of the infringement, the law is broken the moment the work was used. Trying to wrap this simple statement of copyright law into a provision of the DMCA, complicating it with so called “take-down notices” and filtering software, though beneficial to YouTube, is, in my opinion, not going to fly at a copyright infringement trial.

Google’s Kent Walker interprets the DMCA to say that the exchange of information over the Internet and the need to “protect Internet communications” (not quite sure what that means?) is equally as important as upholding the rights of copyright holders. I don’t believe the DMCA was made law for this reason. It sought to relieve ISPs of liability if, say, one of their sites uploaded a hacked version of Microsoft Word. I don’t think the legislators in 1998 ever envisioned the DMCA being used to offer coverage for a company that freely broadcasts videos that they have no permission to offer.