YouTube, an extremely popular video-sharing site that was created in 2005, is rapidly increasing concerns over video-sharing online free of charge. Right-holders of the videos argue that they are being unfairly deprived of the profits that are due to them. These concerns have actualized into legal actions. Recently, music publishers have joined a group of plaintiffs in an action for copyright infringement against YouTube.
Is a court judgment the best solution to the YouTube problem if we are to focus on what is in the best interest of the public? For the courts, it would definitely be a difficult decision to make considering the multitude of interests that are involved and the lack of direction from the statute and cases. Also, there is a high likelihood of the parties entering into a settlement agreement. However, assuming that the case will progress uninterrupted and result in a final decision, what are some of the possible consequences of the judgment?
Let’s consider a judgment against YouTube. Such a decision would involve compensation to the right holders and serious restrictions to YouTube’s activity. One could argue that this result is commendable. Artists, producers, and other owners of the videos would finally receive benefits flowing from their property, and YouTube would be penalized for economically depriving rightful owners in pursuit of the company’s commercial gain. One could further argue that by upholding the rights of the owners, the court is ensuring continuous input and development from the artists, and seeing justice done by sending a strong message to the public that this kind of intellectual property appropriation will not be tolerated. Thus, the court’s decision against YouTube is in the best interest of the public.
Yet, determining what is in the best interest of the public is really not that simple. The points discussed above could easily be weakened by considering some of the benefits of YouTube. For one, it is very effective in fostering creativity by allowing users to upload self-made videos and instantly share them with millions of viewers around the word. Some users have achieved fame and success in this way. Politicians have also recognized the effectiveness of YouTube in disseminating information and gathering support, and have used it for these purposes during campaigns. In several cases, artists and producers have actually profited from having their videos broadcasted through YouTube by taking advantage of the increased publicity.
Aside from depriving the public of an outlet for creative expression and sharing of information, a judgment against YouTube will also have the negative effect of fuelling more litigation. More claims would result against YouTube and other companies engaged in similar activities.
What about a decision in favour of YouTube? I think that this decision would also result in problematic consequences, and that a decision that would allow YouTube to carry out its activities without a restriction would not be in the best interest of the public. Presently, YouTube is looking into various options that would allow it to provide its services while minimizing copyright infringement. To date, YouTube has applied various measures such as talking down videos for which YouTube has received notice of copyright infringement, setting a limit for video runtime, and entering into agreements with right holders. YouTube is also trying to improve their security measures by implementing a filtering system that would sort out infringing materials. A decision in favour may deter YouTube in pursuing these valuable activities, and set a precedent that may encourage infringing activities in the future.
Whether the court rules in favour or against YouTube, I have a hard time seeing how having a judgment on this issue would be the best solution to the problem. Court ruling would offer a simple answer to a complicated issue, but the answer will be given without the necessary tools that would help the parties to work through the problem. Instead of investing their resources in determining who is at fault through the legal process, YouTube and the claimants should work closely together in further determining and developing security measures that would minimize copyright infringement while balancing the interests of YouTube, their users, and the owners of the videos.