March 13, 2007

UPDATED: Viacom Files Copyright Infringement Suit Against YouTube and Google [3:29 pm]

Viacom sues Google over YouTube clips

Viacom on Tuesday slapped YouTube and parent company Google with a lawsuit, accusing the wildly popular video-sharing site of “massive intentional copyright infringement” and seeking more than $1 billion in damages.

The complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, contends that nearly 160,000 unauthorized clips of Viacom’s entertainment programming have been available on YouTube and that these clips have been viewed more than 1.5 billion times. (PDF: Viacom’s complaint)

Findlaw has the paperwork: Viacom’s Copyright Infringement Lawsuit Against YouTube and Google

Later: The LATimes’ article - Viacom files $1-billion suit over YouTube - pdf

“When YouTube was a fun start-up that wasn’t monetizing the content, I was fine with it,” said Ben Silverman, executive producer behind such popular shows as “The Office” on NBC and “Ugly Betty” on ABC. “But the moment they sold themselves for $1.6 billion and became a service that was making money off other people’s content, the game changed.”

Viacom contends that since YouTube has successfully screened pornography from the videos its users contribute, it should be able to police the site for copyrighted material. When Viacom asked Google to take action, “they kept saying, ‘It’s difficult,’ ” Viacom spokesman Carl Folta said. “If it’s difficult, shut your site down until you get it right.”

Sound familiar?

Also from the LATimes, a look at what it took to get to the suit: Google’s intransigence triggered lawsuit - pdf

But Viacom didn’t want to shoot and miss in filing its claim. So it had to painstakingly verify whether clips were improperly copied, might be considered fair use or were even relevant to its lawsuit.

For example, was a clip featuring comedian Jon Stewart in the title lifted from Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” or did it come from one of his outside appearances? Snippets of a video from MTV meshed with an amateur one could be considered fair use. And a clip with Comedy Central’s “Stephen Colbert” in the title might simply be an amateur stand-up desperate for the attention of viewers.

As a result, dozens of workers had to spend hours effectively being paid to watch YouTube.

“You’d see people walking around the building with their eyes glazed over,” said Mark M. Ishikawa, chief executive of BayTSP, a Los Gatos, Calif., company Viacom hired. Shifts were limited to four hours.

Still another problem was separating which clips YouTube was authorized to use. [...]

The NYTimes article: Viacom Sues Google Over Video Clips on Its Sharing Web Site

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Malaysians Try Out The MPAA’s Sniffer Dogs [8:03 am]

Hey, whatever it takes — to get a treaty agreement: Malaysia uses sniffer dogs to fight movie pirates - pdf

Malaysia deployed two sniffer dogs in its battle against music and movie piracy on Tuesday, becoming the first country in the world to use the animals to hunt for disks of illegal recordings hidden in cargo.

Two female Black Labradors, “Flo” and “Lucky,” demonstrated their technique by sniffing through piles of sealed cartons in an air cargo hangar and then signaling their handler about a suspect package by sitting down in front of it.

“It’s cost-effective, and in terms of time, it’s very effective too,” said Domestic Trade Minister Shafie Apdal, adding that the dogs took only 10 minutes to check boxes that security officials would have needed a day to plow through.

Malaysia, which figures on a U.S. watchlist on piracy, has dramatically stepped up efforts to rein in copyright pirates as it negotiates a free-trade pact with the United States.

Later: Pirate Bosses Order a Hit on DVD Sniffer Dogs - pdf

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The Evolving Music Business Model [6:59 am]

Starbucks to form record label - pdf

Glen Barros, president of Concord Music Group, said the new label would not be limited to certain genres, and his company has expanded into adult contemporary pop, rock, soul and R&B.

“The nice thing about Starbucks is you have the platform to expose great music without worrying whether it fits in a particular box or strategy,” Barros said.

The two sides collaborated previously to create Ray Charles’ “Genius Loves Company,” which has sold more than 5.5 million copies and won eight Grammy awards.

If Hear Music releases eight albums a year, it would be considered a small independent label, said Jonathan Taplin, a University of Southern California professor who specializes in digital media entertainment.

But Taplin said Starbucks has an incredible distribution advantage with 9,401 U.S. stores, where CDs are prominently displayed and often are near cash registers.

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Another Stab At A Mystery of Industrial Policy [6:55 am]

Study Says Computers Give Big Boosts to Productivity

The most provocative and controversial parts of the report, “Digital Prosperity: Understanding the Economic Benefits of the Information Technology Revolution,” [local copy] are its claim of extraordinary productivity gains from investments in computing technology and its policy focus on industry sectors.

The report cites studies to back its assertion of outsize productivity benefits, but many economists are not convinced. “It could be that investments here pay off more than other investments, but the evidence is still not in, in my view,” said Robert E. Litan, an economist and director of research and policy at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.

Economists also tend to be skeptical of industry-sector policies because they are reminiscent of industrial policy initiatives in Europe and elsewhere in the postwar years that are widely seen as costly failures. “I am far more sympathetic with promoting investment in general,” Mr. Litan said, “and letting the chips — pun intended — fall where they may.”

I can see what the complaints are about this report. For example, the Executive Summary gives a five-part list of policy initiatives that should be taken to ensure the continued effectiveness of IT in the economy. Number 5 is “Do No Harm,” something that is hard to argue with. But the accompanying paragraph is a pure mishmosh:

Do No Harm: Putting digital transformation at the center of economic policy means not just supporting it, but just as importantly avoiding harm to the digital engine of growth. Notwithstanding the progress that IT enables, all too often well-intentioned policymakers are willing to consider laws and regulations that would slow digital transformation. Efforts to regulate or ban RFID technology under the guise of privacy protection is but one notable case (Atkinson, May 2006). But there are many other policy proposals, such as over-regulating Internet telephony (Voice-over-Internet protocol) or regulating Internet video content, that could have deleterious effects. In other cases, policymakers continue to preserve, and in some cases erect, laws and regulations protecting powerful off-line incumbents (e.g., banks, car dealers, optometrists, realtors) against competition from emerging on-line competitors, thus thwarting competition, slowing productivity growth and hurting consumers (Atkinson, July 2006). While still protecting consumer safety, policymakers should ensure that markets are as open as possible to entry and online competition.

OK - protecting incumbents is not necessarily good, I get that. But ignoring privacy? What’s the real message here, I wonder?

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Something To Remember [6:34 am]

If you, like me, are one of those who are still getting television over the airwaves: U.S. Sets Rules for Digital TV Payments

The government will offer households as much as $80 each to help convert televisions to receive digital broadcasts under a $1.5 billion program.

[...] The subsidies are intended to help consumers prepare for the end of analog TV broadcasts in February 2009. After that, TVs without digital receivers will not be able to show over-the-air broadcasts.

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Richard Stallman on the RIAA College Crackdown [6:17 am]

Some inflamed (and not terribly productive) rhetoric, but I’m sure it made him feel better. A good point on DRM that will be lost in the misrepresentation of the record company business model: Let free music files ring - pdf

Today’s legal music downloads are not an acceptable option, since they carry Digital Restrictions Management (called Digital Rights Management by its proponents) to restrict what people do with the files they have “bought.” Therefore, as founder of the free software movement, I support the boycott of these products.

The real solution is to legalize sharing. This won’t affect the record companies much, but if they did go out of business, we could rejoice that they can no longer threaten anyone.

They pay zero cents of your CD purchase price to musicians (except for superstars), so the absence of these companies would be no loss to society.

Later - a letter to the editor: Friends don’t let friends download - pdf

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