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By LARRY NEUMEISTER, Associated Press Writer

NEW YORK – A $1 billion copyright infringement lawsuit challenging YouTube’s ability to keep copyrighted material off its popular video-sharing site threatens how hundreds of millions of people exchange all kinds of information on the Internet, YouTube owner Google Inc. said.

Google’s lawyers made the claim in papers filed in U.S. District Court in Manhattan as the company responded to Viacom Inc.’s latest lawsuit alleging that the Internet has led to “an explosion of copyright infringement” by YouTube and others.

The back-and-forth between the companies has intensified since Viacom brought its lawsuit last year, saying it was owed damages for the unauthorized viewing of its programming from MTV, Comedy Central and other networks, including such hits as “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.”

In papers submitted to a judge late Friday, Google said YouTube “goes far beyond its legal obligations in assisting content owners to protect their works.”

It said that by seeking to make carriers and hosting providers liable for Internet communications, Viacom “threatens the way hundreds of millions of people legitimately exchange information, news, entertainment and political and artistic expression.”

Google said YouTube was faithful to the requirements of the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act, saying the federal law was intended to protect companies like YouTube as long as they responded properly to content owners’ claims of infringement.

On that score, Viacom says Google has set a terrible example.

In a rewritten lawsuit filed last month, Viacom said YouTube consistently allows unauthorized copies of popular television programming and movies to be posted on its Web site and viewed tens of thousands of times.

Viacom said it had identified more than 150,000 unauthorized clips of copyrighted programming — including “SpongeBob SquarePants,” “South Park” and “MTV Unplugged” episodes and the documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” — that had been viewed “an astounding 1.5 billion times.”

The company said its count of unauthorized clips represents only a fraction of the content on YouTube that violates its copyrights.

It said Google and YouTube had done “little or nothing” to stop infringement.

“To the contrary, the availability on the YouTube site of a vast library of the copyrighted works of plaintiffs and others is the cornerstone of defendants’ business plan,” Viacom said.

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Internet law professor Michael Geist looks at the way that cable firms are starting to shackle the net access they offer.

Ethernet cable, Eyewire

Some cable firms are treating net access like they do TV scheduling

When cable companies began promoting high-speed internet services nearly a decade ago, many branded them “the internet on cable”.

Years later, those services are gradually morphing into “the internet as cable” as broadcasters and service providers steadily move toward the delivery of content online that bears a striking resemblance to the conventional cable model.

Cable television has its virtues – some consumer choice, the ability to time shift programs by recording them with a VCR or PVR, and video on-demand – but it is largely built around limiting consumer control.

Cable distributors determine channel choices, geographic distribution, and commercial substitution (typically with input from a broadcast regulator), offer only limited interactivity, and quietly even possess the ability to stop consumers from recording some programs.

Until recently, the internet was precisely the opposite, offering unlimited user choice, continuous interactivity, and technological capabilities to copy and remix content.

That is gradually changing as broadcasters seek to re-assert greater geographic control over their content and service providers experiment with cable-like models for prioritised content delivery.

Prof Michael Geist (Michael Geist)
…if broadcasters and service providers are left to their own devices, it appears that they are increasingly ready to redefine the internet on cable to the internet as cable.
Michael Geist

The re-emergence of geographic borders on the internet coincides with broadcasters finally jumping on the internet bandwagon, as they race to make their content freely available online.

Some US broadcasters are selling downloads through services such as Apple iTunes or Amazon.com, yet the unmistakable trend is toward free, ad-supported streaming of content mere hours after it first appears on commercial television.

Each major US broadcaster already offers a handful of shows in this manner with ambitious plans to expand their services in the months ahead.

NBC and Fox recently unveiled Hulu.com to some critical acclaim, while Comedy Central created a new site for the popular Daily Show that features a complete archive of eight years of programming.

Non-Americans, alas, are generally locked out of these sites due to licensing restrictions.

Foreign broadcasters have been scrambling to buy the internet rights to US programming, both to protect their local broadcasts and to beef up their online presence.

US broadcasters may eventually decide it is more profitable to stream their content on a worldwide basis and to remove longstanding geographic restrictions, however, for the moment they are parceling up the internet as they would a broadcast destined for multiple cable markets.

Jon Stewart, AP

The Daily Show has proved popular on net video sites

This geographic bordering extends beyond just blocking streamed content. For example, the new Daily Show site is off-limits for Canadians since the US-based Comedy Central recently took the unprecedented step of redirecting Canadian visitors to the Canadian-owned Comedy Network site.

Broadcasters are not alone in working to bring the cable model of control to the internet.

Large net service firms are engaged in similar activities, with a history of blocking access to contentious content, limiting bandwidth for alternative content delivery channels, and raising the prospect of levying fees for priority content delivery.

While these issues had been perceived to be predominantly North American concerns, they are beginning to surface elsewhere.

For example, when earlier this year the BBC launched its internet-based iPlayer, several broadband providers floated the prospect of charging the BBC for delivering its content on their networks.

These issues may ultimately sort themselves out.

Users have many easily-obtainable tools to defeat geographic blocking and net firms may find themselves subject to net neutrality legislation if they continue to abuse the public’s trust by failing to maintain their networks in a transparent, neutral fashion.

Yet if broadcasters and service providers are left to their own devices, it appears that they are increasingly ready to redefine the internet on cable to the internet as cable.


Michael Geist holds the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law at the University of Ottawa, Faculty of Law. He can be reached at mgeist@uottawa.ca or online at http://www.michaelgeist.ca.

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By Chris Vallance
Reporter, BBC iPM


Pile of newspapers, BBC

Many newspapers take text and pictures from social network sites


The use of material taken from personal profiles on social networks by newspapers is to be the subject of a major consultation undertaken by industry watchdog the Press Complaints Commission (PCC).

This comes in the wake of increasingly numbers of newspaper stories that include images and text taken from sites like Bebo, MySpace and Facebook.

But the subjects of press reports are not always happy with the use of content they have uploaded.

Tim Toulmin, director of the PCC, in an interview with BBC Radio 4 says the organisation was getting complaints from people about material, “that is being republished when they themselves are the subject of news stories”.

Mr Toulmin says it would be useful to establish principles to guide the press in their use of social network content.

“It’s down to the PCC to set the boundaries in a common sense way about what sort of information it is acceptable to re-publish,” he says.

To that end the PCC has commissioned research by Ipsos MORI into public attitudes.

The newspaper watchdog wants to discover if people are aware that material they upload could be used in newspaper reports.

It also wants to discover if people would change their behaviour if they knew that information about them could be published in the media.

Public or private?

There has been some public resentment of the use of social networks by the press.

Woman taking photo with mobile phone, BBC

People may post less information if they knew it journalists might use it

In the aftermath of the Virginia Tech school shootings some felt that journalists had invaded what were essentially private online spaces. The behaviour of a few pushy reporters gave rise to the term: “digital door-stepping”.

More recently in the UK, media interest in the spate of suspected suicides among young people in Bridgend has lead some in that community to express concern about the way social network profiles were being used by journalists.

Bridgend Welsh Assembly Member Carwyn Jones, said: “It does raise questions of the sensitivity of publishing those photographs for the world to see.”

Local MP, Madeleine Moon went further saying that some in the community had complained of reporters posing as young people on social networking sites in order to obtain quotes.

Ms Moon, who has spoken with the PCC, stressed she had no evidence to substantiate these claims, but she did feel that there was a clear need for guidelines for the press.

But the wider issue of how reporters should use information taken from social networks is far from clear-cut.

Taking a photo from a social networking site is, some argue, a less traumatic way of obtaining images and personal detail, than a reporter visiting the home of a grieving family. Digital door-stepping can be much less intrusive than the real thing.

Mr Toulmin says the matter is one of degree: journalists do have a right to use publicly accessible content and the public have responsibilities when they post it.

And many who publish to social networks, in Mr Toulmin’s view, do not regard that information as private but actively want to share the information.

He said: “Half the charm is accumulating as many people as possible to be their friends…there will then be an argument about the extent to which you yourself are concerned about people knowing that information.”

Similarly if information is already in the public domain there would be little point in denying the press access.

Clear case

Mr Toulmin also believes any new guidelines should not prevent the press reproducing content clearly in the public interest to publish.

The PCC has already ruled to this effect. It supported the right of a local newspaper to enter an online community undercover and to republish an image found there, because the complainant, a police officer, was the subject of a criminal investigation.

Memorial service at Virginia Tech, Getty

Some papers covering the Virginia Tech shootings used information from social sites

Mr Toulmin says social network sites have a duty to educate users about the implications of uploading personal information to public, or semi-private spaces.

“They will I think be forced to go further in educating people,” he says.

Guidance from the PCC will only apply to newspapers.

With the most popular blogs surpassing the circulation of many local papers, and competing effectively for advertising revenue, this is not a small concern.

Mr Toulmin acknowledges this is important, but adds: “The press do have obligations over and above those that govern the online community.”

But not everyone in the media shares that view: Bob Satchwell of the Director of the Society of Editors thinks the press should be subject to no greater regulation than the public.

Says Mr Satchwell: “Traditional media is already regulated in various ways; broadcasting by the statutory regulation, the press by the PCC, so there are far greater constraints on traditional journalists and media than there are on the wider public, so called ‘citizen journalists’ and bloggers.”

However, there are some restrictions that apply to all who use social network content.

The British Journal of Photography in a recent article concludes that publication of images on social networks does not automatically grant rights to republish photograph elsewhere.

In the end copyright law may resolve part of this issue, if the deliberations of the PCC do not.

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Internet law professor Michael Geist examines the shift from locking down content to locking down the network.

A padlock and key

ISPs are increasingly adding content filtering software to their networks

As digital technologies and the Internet began to emerge in the mid-1990s, many content companies responded by betting on the ability of technological protection measures to re-assert the control that was rapidly slipping from their grasp.

The vision of control through technology required considerable coordination – the insertion of encryption on content distributed to consumers, cooperation from electronics makers to respect the technological limitations within their products, and new legal provisions to prohibit attempts to pick the new digital locks.

A decade later, the strategy lies in tatters. Many content owners have dropped digital locks after alienating disgruntled consumers fed up with their inability to freely use their personal property.

Electronics manufacturers have similarly rebelled, frustrated at the imposition of artificial limitations that constrain their products and profitability.

To top it off, the US architect of the legal strategy last year acknowledged that the legislative initiatives to support the digital lock approach have failed.

Network police

Prof Michael Geist (Michael Geist)
Large US ISPs such as AT&T have inexplicably promised to develop new content filters on their networks.
Michael Geist

In recent months, a new strategy has begun to emerge. With the industry gradually admitting that locking down content does not work, it has now dangerously shifted toward locking down the Internet.

The Internet locks approach envisions requiring Internet service providers to install filtering and content monitoring technologies within their networks.

ISPs would then become private network police, actively monitoring for content that might infringe copyright and stopping it from reaching subscribers’ computers.

The support for locking down the Internet revives an old debate – the appropriate role and responsibility of ISPs for the activities that take place on their networks.

French filtering

Nicolas Sarkozy, French president

French president has plans for country-wide ISP filtering

As the content owners were promoting legal protection for digital locks in the 1990s, the ISPs were supporting legal frameworks that treated them as the equivalent of common carriers that transferred data across their networks without regard for the content itself.

While that approach ensured that ISPs did not take an active role in monitoring or filtering Internet-based activity, the recent move toward a two-tiered Internet – one in which the ISPs themselves dream of distinguishing between different content as a new revenue source – revived the notion that ISPs could be called upon to play a more active role in monitoring and blocking content.

With content owners frustrated at the failure of digital locks, last year they seized on this by renewing their focus on the role of the ISP. This movement has been most prominent in Europe, where last summer a Belgian court ordered an ISP to block access to a site alleged to contain copyright infringing materials.

More recently, French President Nicolas Sarkozy unveiled a plan that would mandate country-wide ISP filtering of copyright infringing content.

Although a similar pan-European proposal was defeated earlier this month, few believe that the issue is dead, particularly given the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry’s claim last Thursday that 2008 will be the year of greater ISP responsibility.

Content filtering plans have also begun to emerge in North America. Large US ISPs such as AT&T have inexplicably promised to develop new content filters on their networks and are discussing an implementation plan with content owners.

In Canada, some cultural groups are openly eyeing content filters as a mechanism to adapt Canadian content rules to the online environment, while others have expressed strong support for legal rules that force ISPs to accept heightened “responsibility” for the conduct of their subscribers.

In light of this pressure, some fear that mandatory content blocking could sneak into domestic legislation, despite the likelihood that such laws would face free speech challenges and run the risk of creating a locked-down, censored Internet.


Michael Geist holds the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law at the University of Ottawa, Faculty of Law. He can be reached at mgeist@uottawa.ca or online at http://www.michaelgeist.ca.

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