Tim Wu from Slate Magazine discusses the development of legal protection against copyright infringement for internet-based services. He argues that Youtube may be safer from copyright litigation than many might believe. He notes that “in the early 1990s…Hollywood and the recording industry worked hard to make Internet companies responsible for any…copyright infringement that happened via the Internet.” Had this view, the idea that internet companies are liable for any infringement that occurs on their sites, been adopted by Congress, few if any Web 2.0 companies would exist today. Fortunately, Lobbyists working for firms controlling a large portion of internet traffic worked to convince Congress that “copyright law threatens to put a damper on the expression of ideas on the internet.” This forced Hollywood to settle for the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which protects “Information Residing on Systems or Networks At Direction of Users,” or in other words, sites using user-generated content. These sites are protected by the Safe Harbor clause in the DMCA which protects content sites and ISPs so long as they comply with takedown requests submitted by copyright holders. Wu notes that Youtube may be liable if it prosecutors can prove that it is aware of specific infringing material on its site. It may also be liable due to the fact that there is a search option on its services. Wu’s most interesting argument, however, is the idea that Hollywood and the recording industry may actually be fonder of the DMCA than previously believed. He states that these industries get the best of both worlds: if they do not want a clip on Youtube, they can simply issue a takedown notice and have the offending clip removed. If the infringing clip appears to be giving a boost to TV or music ratings, however, they can simply allow the clip to remain on Youtube. Thus, Youtube is protected by the idea of “tolerated use” rather than something like “fair use.” While sites like Grokster were not covered under the Safe Harbor law, Youtube is protected by this provision of the DMCA.
Wu accurately conveys the crucial role that the DMCA plays in protecting internet content sites and ISPs, which is a crucial argument in my paper. Had the DMCA never been created, Internet sites could be just as liable for copyright infringing content as stores are for selling physical pieces of copyright infringing material. However, the lawmakers clearly anticipated the importance of user-generated content for e-commerce and thus created a protection clause for sites like Youtube. While Wu mentions that Youtube may be liable for its “search” tools, a similar clause in the DMCA may equally protect Youtube from prosecution for this feature. 512D states that sites which allow users to search for material are not liable for any copyright infringing items that users locate using search options. Thus, the DMCA successfully anticipates many aspects of these Web 2.0 sites and prevents content industries from suing services like Youtube.