Mark Cuban, creator of Broadcast.com and outspoken opponent of Youtube, directly compares Youtube to the original Napster website in this blog entry. He attributes Youtube’s quick success to two specific sources: “Free Hosting from any 3rd Party Site” and “Copyrighted music and video.” He goes on to make direct comparisons between Grokster, Napster, and Youtube. Napster was “the first to tell you it [pirating] wasn’t illegal.” He argues that the only reason Youtube hasn’t been brought to court multiple times already is that the studios are not sure what having so many clips available illegally means for them financially. Similarly to Napster, once the lawsuits begin, they will not stop until the service is forced to shut down. He observes that Youtube is remarkably similar to Napster, because users can simply open as many Youtube pages containing copyrighted songs as they want, and then listen to the songs as they would on Napster. Youtube will be hurt not just by lawsuits, but also by the wide availability of copyrighted content in legal online channels, such as NBC making clips available on its own site. Cuban states that as soon as Youtube is sued by copyright holders, it will be forced to find and remove all infringing content. This will leave the site, he argues, devoid of most appealing content.
While Cuban is correct in noting that there is a large amount of copyrighted material available on Youtube, he fails to take into account several key details. First, he states that Youtube will be sued for inducing others to commit infringement, just as Napster and Grokster were sued. Unlike Youtube, however, Napster and Youtube advertised themselves as sites which allowed users to download any music they wanted. They actually did induce users to visit the site for the purpose of downloading infringing material, whereas Youtube encourages users to visit its site to host user-generated content, evident from its slogan of “Broadcast Yourself.” Cuban also suggests that after copyrighted material such as TV shows is widely available in other locations and once copyright holders begin ordering their content to be removed, Youtube would be devoid of any content to set it apart from competitors. However, sites like Hulu, Joost, and services run by major Television studios have been online for over a year and Youtube is as popular as ever. This debunks the argument that Youtube would be unappealing once its copyright material was removed and other legal video-viewing services were established. Rather, users still visit the site for non-copyrighted material, and it continues to thrive, having just signed several deals itself with major content creators and TV Studios. Cuban’s main oversight is in the DMCA. He completely fails to take into account the fact that the DMCA Safe Harbor law removes Youtube from direct liability for any infringing videos that are posted on its service, so long as it removes them upon request of the copyright holder.
On March 13, 2007, Viacom International Inc. filed a class action lawsuit against Youtube claiming massive copyright infringement by the defendant. Viacom filed the suit after sending takedown notices to Youtube demanding over 150,000 copyrighted videos be removed from its servers. In its complaint, Viacom notes “millions have seized the opportunities digital technology provides to express themselves creatively.” However, Viacom argues that Youtube has “harnessed technology to willfully infringe copyrights on a huge scale.” Youtube, the complaint urges, has built a library of infringing video clips in order to increase profit. Rather than attempting to remove all infringing videos, Youtube “has decided to shift the burden entirely onto copyright owners to monitor the Youtube site…to detect infringing videos and send takedown notices to Youtube.” Viacom claims that Youtube increases its own value at the expense of copyright holders through the following methods: displaying advertisements above infringing videos, allowing users to embed infringing files onto other websites to draw users to Youtube and subsequently increase ad revenue, and permitting users to keep copyrighted videos hidden from the public. Viacom also notes that Youtube hosts the videos on its own servers, rather than simply acting as a conduit through which users pass files. This, in Viacom’s interpretation, makes Youtube the primary copyright infringer as it is the entity that is actually “performing” the copyrighted footage.
Youtube is one of the more influential websites in the development of Web 2.0. The website has essentially ushered in a new age of internet democratization by giving all users the ability to create and host content. Viacom’s complaint fails to take several important copyright issues into account, however, decreasing the lawsuit’s validity in several key issues. First and foremost, it assumes that Youtube has a clear intention of hosting copyright infringing content. While the court decided that Grokster, in MGM Studios v. Grokster, did not have sufficient non-infringing uses to escape liability, Youtube was developed as a website where average internet users can upload home videos. When asked about a memory associated with Youtube, users will typically discuss a humorous home movie they saw rather than an illegal movie clip. Similarly, Viacom assumes that Youtube is responsible for policing its site for all copyrighted material, failing to mention the DMCA once in the lawsuit. The Safe Harbor clause of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, however, removes service providers from liability for any copyrighted material that users upload to their servers, specifically if the content provider removes material that a copyright holder insists is infringing. Youtube immediately removes material upon receipt of a takedown notice, typically without even ensuring that the entity which issued the notice is actually the copyright holder. Youtube is similarly protected by the Inducing Infringement of Copyrights Act, which protects sites which do not induce others to commit copyright infringement. Rather, Youtube encourages users to produce their own works.