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Universal Sues Grouper and Bolt.com

Vivendi-owned Universal Music Group filed a lawsuit Monday against video-sharing YouTube rival Websites Grouper.com and Bolt.com, accusing the sites of hosting pirated versions of Universal music videos. Universal maintains that the two sites allowed users to view, share, and swap illegal versions of videos by Universal artists including Gwen Stefani, Kanye West and Sheryl Crow.

Vivendi-owned Universal Music Group filed a lawsuit Monday against video-sharing YouTube rival Websites Grouper.com and Bolt.com, accusing the sites of hosting pirated versions of Universal music videos.

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Universal maintains that the two sites allowed users to view, share, and swap illegal versions of videos by Universal artists including Gwen Stefani, Kanye West and Sheryl Crow.

Thousands of such pirated videos have been viewed on both Grouper and Bolt.com on a daily basis. With Universal seeking damages for as much as $150,000 for each incident of copyright infringement, this case could prove to be one of the most costly in the history of copyright infringement. And really, is that entirely fair? At the end of the day, Universal could just as easily view the whole situation as free advertising for their artists. Universal may have a difficult time proving that Grouper and Bolt have damaged them (or their artists) financially in any way.

Interestingly, Sony Pictures Entertainment signed an agreement to purchase Grouper Network, Inc. in August. As a result, the pending lawsuit states that Universal retains the right to add Sony Pictures to the suit once the case proceeds. Bolt.com is privately held, but both sites are accused of exploiting copyrighted material to bolster their own image as popular video sites.

One of Bolt’s owners posted this message on the Bolt.com homepage earlier today:
“We understand the love you have for your favorite musical artists, but Bolt respects the rights of copyright owners such as Universal Music and their artists, and we ask that you please do so as well by not uploading their videos to Bolt. You can still watch your favorite music videos by visiting your favorite bands websites. Bear with us – we hope to sort this out soon!”

Allegations in the case are so serious that Grouper and Bolt are now being compared to Napster and Kazaa, the original music-sharing sites that set the precedent for the illegal exploitation of copyrighted material. If Universal does win the case, it will mark the end of Grouper and Bolt, but I have a feeling that this digital art from (like all others) will find a way to come streaming into our homes illegally once again.

What do you think? Is complete copyright protection too much to ask in this digital age? Universal and other media corporations need to face the truth: If it’s out there, we’re going to find it, and we’re going to share it.

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