Question for people who post large chunks of their favorite TV shows on YouTube: do you think you're going to get sued?
Now that Viacom Inc. (NYSE:VIA) is suing Google Inc. (NASDAQ:GOOG) for $1 billion that's not a far-fetched scenario. Google has tried and failed to cut deals with other big content providers. Unless Google pulls off a miracle, it's probably a matter of time before another big media company joins Viacom and another one after that
Although people hated the music industry's campaign against Napster and other file-sharing services, the message got out that you should pay for music that you download. Why is video sharing any different? Billionaire blogger Mark Cuban, a critic of YouTube, called the site "a haven for pirates." It's hard to disagree.
It took me 20, maybe 30 seconds surfing YouTube clips from "Daily Show with Jon Stewart," "The Colbert Report." "American Idol", "Lost" and" Family Guy" that would probably give lawyers from big media a fit. Reuters came to the same conclusion. YouTube can be that oblivious.
Many of the YouTube clips I found were multi-minute chunks of hit shows. They were the funny moments, the highlights that fans enjoy. Some were as long as 15 minutes. Media companies would be insane to give that away for free. How is that legal?
Legal experts are divided over whether Viacom has a case against Google, according to The New York Times. The safe harbor provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act may offer Google protection against people posting videos they don't own. As Melly Alazarki pointed out yesterday, the DMCA was enacted during the Internet's Stone Age. Copyright holders have to flag objectionable content and ask sites like YouTube to take it down.
By the time that happens, the illegal content has spread to every corner of the Web. Remember it was still wrong to post other people's conent in the first place.
Some sort of balance has to be struck that doesn't stifle creativity and respects the rights of copyright holders. But if YouTube is to survive, it will have to figure a way to stop pirated content and punish those who post it.
So party on, YouTubers. The fun may not last.