It's Time To Rethink Copyright Law

There was more posturing today in the big YouTube-Viacom copyright showdown that began around the time that Google acquired YouTube and started talking to big copyright holders about paying them to get their content legally onto the popular video site. It spun out of control from there until it became a billion dollar lawsuit.

Normally I’m on the side of whoever’s against the copyright holders and their agenda of ever-expanding rights on these types of issues. They will stop at nothing to preserve their expired business models.

In this case, though, I’m just as afraid of YouTube, which still aims to get rights to show all, or virtually all, professionally produced television and film content. Their goal is simple – copy the adsense model and get the same stranglehold on advertising around video that they have around search.

That may be more difficult for Google than sewing up search was, since there are so many players determined to stop them before they get a proper foothold. The music guys got hooked on the iTunes fees and still haven’t been able to get off the juice. Their tv and film cousins are fully aware of what happens if a single middleman gets too much power.

What’s Best For The Internet?

The front lines of the copyright war are the ISP and service provider skirmishes. The MPAA and RIAA continue to fight consumers directly, of course, but their only real chance of locking down the Internet and file trading/steaming is to go after the companies that allow it to happen. In 1998 the DMCA made copyright infringement even more illegal than it already was, but also gave service providers a safe harbor to protect them against infringement by their users.

Did/does YouTube properly comply with the DMCA? That’s pretty much irrelevant at this point. What matters is the law going forward. And since this case is likely to go to trial, there’s a good chance that new law will be created. Exactly what is decided, and how Congress reacts, will have a big impact on the Internet going forward.

My position is that it’s bad to criminalize natural behavior. And watching a clip of The Office, whether it’s legally on Hulu or illegally on YouTube is natural behavior. The only question is whether or not people are getting sued, or going to jail, for doing it.

It’s time to rethink copyright laws, and it’s time for copyright holders to rethink their business models. The winners won’t be the companies that win or lose billion dollar lawsuits. It’ll be the companies that throw out everything that’s come before, and build new businesses around the natural behavior of people. Remove friction and win.