User-generated videos uploaded to YouTube can sometimes be the fastest way to share news and creative stories. There is a massive amount of videos on the site, but whose job is it to monitor it to ensure that information remains free flowing and that copyright infringement is not taking place?
A. John P. Mancini ’86, a partner for Mayer Brown LLP in New York City, shed some light on the topic during a November lecture, “Defending YouTube: How a Fairfield Graduate Protected the Internet.” Sponsored by the College of Arts and Sciences and co-sponsored by the Dolan School of Business, the School of Engineering, and Alumni Relations, Mancini spoke about his work defending Google (which owns YouTube) against Viacom.
“A lot of people think this type of argument about free speech and technology is new, but it’s not,” Mancini said. “The same dispute happened in relation to radio and VCRs. It’s an age-old argument of free speech.”
In 2007, Viacom filed a $1 billion lawsuit against YouTube alleging that the site had engaged in “brazen” copyright infringement because it allows users to upload copyrighted material owned by Viacom (such as TV clips from shows like The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.) Viacom stated that YouTube had “red flag knowledge” of the infringing works and needed to do more to regulate the information.
Viacom wanted YouTube to check all of its content that its users uploaded before it could go live, which would be a massive undertaking. Forty-eight hours of content a minute is uploaded to the site, which equals eight years of content uploaded every day.
Mancini and his team argued that YouTube exists to promote the exchange of ideas in a community for free expression. “You need to protect copyrights, of course,” said Mancini, “But ultimately, you have to protect the interests of the many over the few,” he said in reference to the millions of people who post to YouTube versus the few production companies fighting for tighter controls.
During the case, Mancini and his team discovered that employees of Viacom were engaged in “gorilla marketing” and uploaded their own content under anonymous, names to create a buzz about their own material. Mancini said, “How can YouTube do a better job of monitoring when Viacom knows better than anyone what is posted illegally?”
Lively discussion with students and a panel of faculty experts followed Mancini’s talk. Faculty members commented on his case from the vantage of their own disciplines, which included Dr. Gisela Gil-Equi, associate professor of communication and an expert on new media; Debra Strauss, J.D., associate professor of management with a focus on business law; and Dr. Shah Etemad, associate professor and chair of mechanical engineering.
The court eventually ruled in Google and YouTube’s favor under the safe harbor provision of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which states that YouTube must promptly block access to allegedly infringing material only if they receive a notification claiming infringement from a copyright holder or the copyright holder’s agent.
The case is currently on appeal, but for now, YouTube users are free to post their videos without delay. “You want to reward innovation and the free flow of ideas,” Mancini concluded.
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