Universal Music Sues MySpace

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After its CEO said in September that YouTube and MySpace owe Universal Music Group “tens of millions of dollars,” the media giant has followed through with its threat and filed suit against MySpace for copyright infringement, according to the Wall St. Journal (subscription required). The most interesting part of the suit is that Universal is alleging that MySpace participated in the copyright violations by transcoding copyrighted video so that it can be replayed and sent to other users.

The Journal notes that today is also the day that MySpace is introducing a new tool that will allow copyright holders to flag unauthorized content on the site. That tool (our coverage) uses technology from Gracenote. MySpace said in a press release that the suit is “unnecessary and meritless.” That transcoding argument sounds like a serious one to me.

Weeks after threatening YouTube and MySpace both this fall, Universal signed a licensing agreement with YouTube the day before the Google acquisition was announced. It also sued Sony’s Grouper and Bolt for copyright infringement.

Is a fresh round of heavyweight copyright wars breaking out? Is there any possibility of an out of court settlement between the two companies? This week’s Craigslist court decision immediately comes to mind. The online directory was ruled on Wednesday to not be responsible for discriminatory housing postings on its site. The court found that Craigslist is a conduit and not a publisher. That ruling was complicated and fell under the Federal Communications Deceny Act. Universal’s lawsuits, against Grouper, Bolt and now MySpace appear headed for a direct test of the DMCA Safe Harbor provision, which is believed to protect parties to copyright infringement so long as they remove copyrighted content upon request. The argument about transcoding video may be the killer in this case.

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