In the middle of November, Universal Music filed an extensive copyright lawsuit against YouTube, not long after Google moved to purchase it. So, what does this portend?
As you undoubtedly know, YouTube is a site that allows people to post videos of all sorts. Sometimes the videos are their own and sometimes they are copied from other locations. This second category has raised a number of issues in the cyber law field with most of the questions surrounding copyright. Specifically, many wonder how this situation is anything different than what happened with Napster and similar sites. With Universal's lawsuit, we are about to find out.
Copyright is often a misunderstood area of the law, particularly when it is applied to the internet. Copyright is simple the right of a party to control the distribution of the work in question. The party is usually the creator of the work, but they can sell it off to another party if they wish. Regardless, the party has the right to license out their work to other parties for distribution in exchange for compensation. When someone uses the piece without the consent of the party, they are infringing upon the copyright.
Unlike Napster, many media companies have entered negotiations with YouTube to try to resolve copyright issues up front. Although every deal is different, copyright infringement issues are usually resolved by paying royalties to the offended party. In this case, Universal and YouTube actually entered such negotiations. With the filing of the lawsuit, it obviously didn't work out. The reported problem was the fact an unreleased Jay-Z music video appeared on YouTube. Obviously, Universal felt its thunder had been stolen.
One must wonder what Google thinks of all of this. Although a brilliant search engine company, Google has a history of falling on its face when it comes to legal issues ranging from privacy protection to swiping executives from other companies, particularly Microsoft. With YouTube, many wondered if Google was purchasing one giant lawsuit. Apparently, this may have occurred to the powers that be at Google as rumors abound that hundreds of millions of dollars of the purchase price were set aside to cover lawsuits. Time to break out the check book!
Regardless, the dispute between Universal and YouTube/Google looks to be significant in the development of copyright law on the net. This is definitely something worth keeping an eye on.