Sunday, March 25, 2007

Viacom is Sued

In an interesting twist to the thickening plot of Viacom vs YouTube, the EFF and Stanford's Center for Internet and Society have filed suit against Viacom, claiming that the media company falsly submitted a request to remove a video from YouTube.

The video that was removed was a production by Civic Action and Brave New Films LLC, which included clips from "The Colbert Report," a show from Viacom's daughter company, Comedy Central. The makers of the video claim that their use was fair, and that Viacom incorrectly filed for the removal of the video.

The fair use doctrine stipulates that a copyrighted work may be used, so long as the portion used is small and that it does not harm the market for the copyrighted work, among others. The EFF and CIS maintain that video fell under the protection of fair use, and that it was inappropriate for Viacom to demand the removal of the video.

This side lawsuit brings up the interesting question of the role of DMCA for service providers, since the law does not rule in favor of the provider if they take too long to investigate the content upon receiving notice for its removal.

YouTube vs ThemTube

News Corp and NBC announced today that they will be launching their own video site, one that reviews say may rival YouTube, the video-sharing community now owned by Google, and the defendant in a huge copyright case against Viacom.

The new site by News Corp and NBC promises to give viewers what they want...for free. Sure, there will be the obligatory commerical, the annoying banner ads, and probably lots of cookies tracking views and user data, but it is a step towards progress when these Big Media heavyweights agree to release the content of shows like The Simpsons and Saturday Night Live online, on their own terms.

Only a few months ago tech-naysayers were scolding sites like YouTube and claiming the end of video streaming for copyrighted material. And here we have the News Corp/NBC site springing up. The tribe has spoken. The people want content, they want it online, and they want it for free. Now the media outlets have to adapt themselves to those demands.

The only real downside, in my opinion, in these new sanctioned forums, is that the platform for sharing user-produced content disappears. People like YouTube not just for the Jon Stewart clips, but also because they like to see videos of other users, from people like them. YouTube is as much about community as it is about a new format of television. Projects by News Corp and NBC seem to gloss over that fact.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Copyright: the Metaphysics of Law

Today, American copyright is an all-or-nothing, all-rights-reserved federal protection. The moment an “original work of authorship” is “fixed in any tangible medium of expression,”[1] its author receives an automatic claim to exclusive rights in that work. The duration of a single, “flesh-and-blood” author’s copyright is his entire life plus seventy years after his death. After that, the work passes into the public domain. Is this term too extreme?

Since its initial inception, the term of copyright’s protection has increased dramatically. In 1790, following the drafting of the Progress Clause of the United States Constitution, authors enjoyed fourteen years of federal protection in their published works. After that, they could renew their copyrights for a maximum fourteen more years. In those days, an author had to register his copyright by first submitting a printed title page of the work with a local court, then running a notice of publication in a newspaper within two months of publication, and finally placing a copy of the work with the Secretary of State within six months of publication.[2] Today, copyright is awarded without hassle or formality the moment a work achieves “fixity.” It seems that the arena of copyright, the law may indeed approach
“what may be called the metaphysics of law,” a regulatory realm “where distinctions are, or at least may be, very subtle and refined, and sometimes, almost evanescent.”[3]

[1] United States Code Title 17 Chapter 1 Paragraph 102

[2] alice schreyer “copyright and books in nineteenth-century america” Getting the books out. p 123

[3] Folsom v Marsh, 9 Federal Case 342, 344 (C.C.D. Mass. 1841).

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Holding Class in Cyberspace

I just wanted to post a few thoughts in response to the class we had last week online. I thought it turned out to be an interesting experiment that demonstrated the pros and cons of digital communication.

People seemed less intimidated to contribute. Although at times questions became too numerous, I felt that the class on a whole was more involved in the conversation.

A degree of anonymity that I think may have allowed people to talk more freely about subjects such as .xxx sites.

The comfort of your own room. I usually travel 1 hr each way on the bus to class. Meeting online saved me a nice chunk of time.

Written transcript of the class. We could refer to it later if need be.

People could be "present" in the room, but absent in the discussion. This is probably only a problem for the professor who has to take attendance. For the students, it's a nice way to the folks who want to be there to stay, and for those that don't care, to surf the net.

Tempo of the conversation could seem very rushed. Especially at the beginning, when questions flew at our guest.

Some people monopolize the conversation. There is no easy way "not to call on someone" online. If they want to say something, they will.

Harder to thread topics. I constantly felt like I was scattering and trying to figure out what response was to whom.

Overall, like I said, an interesting experiment. It had its perks, but I say will full conviction that I am glad that we meet regularly in person.