Viacom’s general counsel says that suing people for file-sharing is “expensive, and it’s painful, and it feels like bullying.”
Speaking to a group of Yale law students, Michael Fricklas admitted that “it felt like terrorism” when his company and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) engaged in suing a college student for peer-to-peer file sharing. Viacom, which controls properties like Paramount and Comedy Central, saw its copyright-enforcement policies gain notoriety after the company’s $1 billion lawsuit against YouTube in 2007.
That lawsuit compelled YouTube to quit being the Web’s “Wild West” video host and to build its current content recognition system, a search engine that roves for video or audio similar to known and copyrighted content and then takes down the offending video. That system was worth it: YouTube has been steadily experimenting with profitable ways to host advertisements, and its model of “create and curate” might prove to be a big money-maker after all. And Viacom proved that you can tame the Web–or at least most of it.
The problem with YouTube’s content filter is that it’s not enough to please the big content producers. Fricklas says he’s still a big advocate of digital rights management (DRM), the software that keeps you from sharing videos or music you bought digitally. Why? Because, he says, DRM will make possible the most inexpensive forms of viewership–namely, video rentals and streaming video.
But as ArsTechnica points out, DRM becomes tyrannical (even nonsensical) when applied to ownership. “Ripping a DVD to an iPod, using an external Blu-ray drive to load a film onto a PC for a long trip, making backup copies of those expensive Disney films your kids love, using a film clip in a mashup or piece of criticism–these are all rendered difficult or impossible to do legally by DRM. What is content protection “enabling” here?” the site asks.
Fricklas didn’t go into details about ownership issues, and Ars argues that after all their trouble, content providers usually realize that DRM software leaves them beholden to whoever provides the digital sales–in the case of the music industry, it’s Apple. But this isn’t a great analogy, being that music’s potential for advertising monetization is nearly nil. Companies will continue to fight hard on video rights, no matter how much they profess to understand the plight of the user. It’s too essential to their business not to.