Viacom v Google: Threat to the Net -- or just Google?

The re-do of Viacom's $1 billion lawsuit against Google for alleged infringement of copyright on YouTube is moving forward as Google filed an answer to Viacom's redrafted complaint. The original suit was filed last year but Viacom re-filed the complaint last month.

The re-do of Viacom's $1 billion lawsuit against Google for alleged infringement of copyright on YouTube is moving forward as Google filed an answer to Viacom's redrafted complaint. The original suit was filed last year but Viacom re-filed the complaint last month. Based on the information in this AP story, I'm guessing Google pretty much re-stated its language from its original answer. To wit:

Viacom's complaint in this action challenges the careful balance established by Congress when it enacted the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The DMCA balances the rights of copyright holders and the need to protect the internet as an important new form of communication. By seeking to make carriers and hosting providers liable for internet communications, Viacom's complaint threatens the way hundreds of millions of people legitimatelyexchange information, news, entertainment, and politicaland artistic expression. Google and YouTube respect the importance of intellectual property rights, and not only comply with their safeharbor obligations under the DMCA, but go well above and beyond what the law requires.

Over at TechDirt, Mike Masnick thinks the conflict is indicative of a larger disconnect: applying content-oriented laws to a communication medium. (via Mashable)

Media companies still look on the internet as a content platform. That is, they think of it as a new broadcast medium. Most other folks recognize that the internet is a communications medium, and the focus should be on the ease of communication. That's a problem for anyone who comes from a world of broadcast media, and it creates all sorts of problems for copyright law that is designed mainly to protect a broadcast-style media. Yet, when it comes to communication, the idea of using copyright to restrict content gets weird in a hurry.
It's clear that some percentage of YouTube content is pure competition to licensed broadcasters, but as Mike says, the majority -- and by far the more important use -- is to use shared cultural references and content to parody, celebrate, reference and add individual creativity. This is reminiscent of Larry Lessig's keynote speeches from the early 21st century -- that an entire generation that communicates postmodernly is being cut off at the knees by inflexible enforcement of the letter of copyright law. We can have copyright for its real purpose -- and still allow people to use their favority songs as soundtracks to videos of their kids and dogs. The content owners may want a license fee for everything. Or they may just fear if they let personal use go by they will waive their rights against true transgressors. The onus right now is on the courts to fashion more flexible interpretations of law that reflect this communication-usage of content. Lessig championed this cause for a decade without a huge amount of success. Now that Google and the other majors have a vested stake in defending those rights, perhaps we'll get more reasonable rules -- either from the courts or Congress -- out of this conflict. Funny how the law works.