GooTube’s Strange Bedfellows

Making the rounds of the Internet so you don’t have to, Legal Pad stumbled over Columbia Law School professor Tim Wu’s Slate article about whether YouTube is, in fact, a litigation mine field for its new owner, search behemoth Google.

Conventional wisdom (the blathering of blog and main-media expertologists) has it that YouTube, being riddled with obviously copyright-violating content, is gonna lose hard when the ever-litigious Powers That Beat in the entertainment industry (and their L.A. law firms) come gunning for it.

Prof. Wu offers a pleasantly untechnical look at YouTube’s real prospects (with links to the more technical stuff, for the hard-core) and finds that the safe harbor concept that makes this Web 2.0 thing work should spare the video site from a harsh Napsterizing.

Web 2.0” is the catchy (and arguably trademarked) label for the post-blog era of user-generated content, and while current law provides methods for copyright holders to get their content taken down from an offending site, it tends to exempt the site from litigation over the scurrilious behavior of its piratical users.

What’s most interesting about Wu’s article, though, is his brief history of how safe harbor ended up in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (.pdf) in the first place. The safe harbor that shelters YouTube and its new parent, Google, was driven by the network providers — the AT&Ts and such, who didn’t want to be held liable for every last bit and byte shooting across its wires. Of course, that same cabal of broadband forces, Wu observes, is now arrayed against Google in the battle against “network neutrality,” which is the idea that broadband providers should not be allowed to charge extra just to get data from a Web site A to user B (especially when those providers are just trying to disadvantage Web site A’s service in favor of the provider’s Web site C, which won’t suffer the lag times heaped upon site A).

So, while you can still get it delivered to your computer in a timely manner, check out Wu’s piece and discover that the politics of Internet regulation and big-business lobbying do, indeed, make odd bedfellows.

Brian McDonough


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