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Clarifying Copyright

A law is only useful when a majority of the population understands it, finds it appropriate and obeys it.

Copyright law is far from clear even to lawyers so to expect the typical Internet user to understand the finer points of what they can and can't do with digital content is unrealistic.

Mark Cuban has had a theme going on his blog (Blog Maverick) about the issues of Google/YouTube and copyright infringement. One particular post that got me thinking was this one – "Subpoenas and Gootube" where Mark posed this thought:

"But I want to know if they feel that Google endorses and supports uploading and streaming of pirated content. I want to know why they ignored the warnings that are on the video upload page."

If you look, the terms and conditions of use for YouTube are explicit:

"In connection with User Submissions, you further agree that you will not: (i) submit material that is copyrighted, protected by trade secret or otherwise subject to third party proprietary rights, including privacy and publicity rights, unless you are the owner of such rights or have permission from their rightful owner…"

So why do people upload content to which they don't have a license or own? I suspect the reason is that the consumer thinks that what they are doing is fair and appropriate and so they aren't violating the rights of the copyright holder – of course, ignorance of the law is not a defense but how can you enforce copyright when you have multi-million infringements under today's law by otherwise law abiding people?

Walt Mossberg's column in today's Wall Street Journal provides some interesting observations about fair use and the need to clarify copyright law to help protect the consumer. You don't have to agree with all the points in the column but my conclusions are twofold:

  1. The definitions of "fair use" for copyrighted digital content need clarification and simplification so that the consumer can understand their obligations.
  2. The real battlefront is between the content owner and the consumer – the content owners need to package content in ways that are consistent with the changing use patterns of the consumer.

It's up to Congress to tackle the first problem and that will take time but it's good to see the content owners respond to the second point with NBC's announcement today which I covered in my earlier post today. We're going to see a lot of change in this space – that much is for sure!


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Intense Brit, lived in Silicon Valley since 1984. Avid pilot, like digital photography, ham radio and a bunch of other stuff. Official Geek.

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