Viacom rolls the dice on every media company

The decision by Viacom to continue its pursuit of a lawsuit against Google and YouTube is the last, dying gasp of the old guard. Viacom can’t win, and that means the old guard can’t win, which has ramifications far beyond Viacom. The risk you take when you vow to pursue your position to the end is that you will, in fact, reach the end — your end.

A much better strategy would be to work with Google to craft something that’s workable for everybody. That would require compromise, and rather than do that, Viacom is putting the golden goose on the chopping block. By choosing to push its view that YouTube violated its copyrights, Viacom risks those copyrights in ways it can’t even imagine today. I say that, because Viacom cannot win this war. Even if they did get a favorable decision — they won’t — it wouldn’t stop the fundamental disruption to media. It would, in fact, accelerate it, because people are simply fed up with being milked and squeezed at every turn in the road by the copyright-as-property industry. History is filled with incidences of laws wearing out their welcome on cultures, and the downstream revolt after a favorable Viacom decision would make the current one seem like child’s play.

Maybe Viacom actually wants a Supreme Court ruling, but from where I sit, the only people who gain by this are the lawyers.

Comments

  1. Mr. Heaton: Perhaps you missed the first iteration of this dispute, but the last time that a federal district court held that a federal law created a civil “safe harbor’ available to “technologists” intentionally building businesses based upon mass piracy–what the law calls, “criminal racketeering,” the case was MGM Studios, Inc. v. Grokster, Ltd. It was reversed–unanimously–by all nine Justices of the Supreme Court because laws are never interpreted to create something so absurd as a civil safe harbor for criminal wrongdoing unless no other interpretation of the law is possible. Here is a link to a detailed analysis of why the decision in favor of YouTube cannot be sustained on appeal:

    http://www.pff.org/issues-pubs/pops/2010/pop17.14-Grokster_Redux.pdf

    In short, Judge Stanton’s decision was vacuous and dead-wrong on the law. Viacom is right to appeal it. –Tom

  2. Mr. Syndor:

    First of all, let me say thank you for sharing your opinion. This is a forum for my views, and I always appreciate it when people take the time to offer theirs. I write to challenge my own assumptions, and comments are always welcome. I don’t respond to every one, but I’m doing so here, because I’m upset. I apologize up front for the venom that follows below, but you’ve scratched a nerve that’s pretty raw.

    I have a special disdain for lawyers that is well-documented here. I especially dislike those, such as yourself, who are patronizing and condescending, as if your knowledge is somehow superior to those you feel a need to “correct.” I think lawyers are the lowest human beings on the planet, pedestal-dwelling exploiters of rules for profit and benders of reality for the sake of a gun belt notch or to continue their dominant cultural position. In the most unspoken conflict of interest in America today, lawyers disguised as legislators make the laws that benefit lawyers, and I think that lawyers deserve every evil thing that anyone has ever said about them. These feelings are especially strong for those cavalier attorneys who think themselves above the fray in which the little people struggle day in and day out.

    Let’s take your comment, for example. Like other spammers, you’re here to promote your website by leaving links and sucking Google juice, but here’s what really galls me about your specific comment: you’ve come in here and dropped your pile of manure without one bit of knowledge about whose property you’re soiling. You treat me like a child, and that pisses me off.

    Let’s take your example of the Grokster case. First of all, that’s not law; that’s a decision. If it’s a law, then which Congressman or Senator authored it? You act as though this decision matters, and it doesn’t. Grokster is not even on the same planet as YouTube, much less in the same ballpark. Oh, I’m sure Grokster matters in your mind, because so-called “case law” is your invention, your self-serving invention. And to use Grokster to argue the merits of the Viacom suit is naive and ridiculous. It reveals an ignorance of YouTube so incredible that it really doesn’t warrant a comment. YouTube as a haven for criminal activity? That is the most ignorant statement that could possible come from the lips of anyone of intelligence. It is this twisting of reality to suit your own needs that makes people like you so detestable.

    Since you’ve not bothered to read everything (or anything) I’ve written, let me share just a few things about copyright and the entertainment cartel. The RIAA’s actions in suing its customers and going after people sharing music did nothing to fix the industry’s essential business problem. You know why? Because the problem never was piracy in the first place. It was crappy music, the homogenized garbage guaranteed only to make money. The industry buried one hit in an “album” of junk and expected us to merrily pay $16.95 for the experience. Times change. Eras change. Laws change.

    The dismantling of content from source is what then FCC Chairman Michael Powell referred to in 2004 as “application separation.” He said it was “the most important paradigm shift in the history of communications” and that it would “change things forever.” Not if you have anything to say about it, right, “Tom?”

    In its narrow view of reality, the RIAA made the regrettable decision of going after anybody and everybody, claiming — and this is an especially hilarious conclusion that only lawyers could dream up — that when we buy an album, we don’t really “own” the album; we own the right to listen to it. In one convolution interpretation, decades of little people sharing music with each other was swept aside in order to protect the deep pockets of those who don’t give a crap about the very people who’ve made them what they are. This contempt for captive consumers is at the very heart of what you’re trying to protect, and the culture is saying, “screw you!” This exploitation and bending of reality is exactly why I find lawyers to be the essence of evil.

    Creative expression is not property. You lawyers would love for it to be like patents, but a copyright is not a patent. You can cleverly alter language to fit your self-serving needs, but you do so in an illusionary vacuum, with those of us out here shaking our common sense heads. Your time will come.

    You know, we’re coming after you, too, “Tom.” You think that your degree and your license will protect you. You think that the knowledge you possess is scarce, and you’ll do anything you can to protect that scarcity. The problem is that we can organize your knowledge into a little box that fits in the palm of our hands and spews forth the same crap that you do. We can create and print briefs. We don’t need you, and we’re coming after you, because you’ve sucked the life out of the little people for too long. What will you do then? Who will you lecture then? We’re coming after you and everyone like you.

    So rather than be on the smart side of rewriting laws for the digital age and thereby assuring a seat at tomorrow’s table, you’ve come here to tell me why we should all just keep quiet and go back 50 years while the rest of the world races on by. No thanks.

    I’d wager a week’s pay that you’ve never explored YouTube, and yet you’re here to tell me that they’re providing a haven for criminal activity. Get a life. Please. You and Viacom deserve each other.

    I stand by what I said in the original post. Even if Viacom “wins” the case, they will lose the war and probably have, in ways that really matter, already done so.

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