YouTube, MySpace under copyright scrutiny

Emily Banks

From college students chanting for their team to late night talk shows and Gwen Stefani’s latest music video, Web sites such as YouTube and MySpace clearly offer an excess of free entertainment.

But the owners of these sites may soon have to pay a price. Copyright holders are beginning to put pressure on the corporations that own the online social networks.

YouTube

YouTube, which was recently purchased by Google, may not be making money directly from pirated or unauthorized use of copyrighted materials on its site, but the copyright holders are arguably losing money.

Media law professor Jane Kirtley said people who own the rights to material have a legal right to control its dissemination.

Copyright holders whose material has been placed on YouTube illegally can file a copyright infringement notification with the company, who will then remove it from the site.

It was recently reported that Comedy Central filed one of these notifications, requesting clips from “The Colbert Report” and “The Daily Show” be removed from the site. YouTube refused to comment on Comedy Central clips being removed, and they are still on the site.

YouTube has also negotiated some licensed music with Sony and BMG.

“What this would suggest to me is Google and YouTube are not denying copyright issues,” Kirtley said.

She described the intent of copyright holders who sue Google as partly about keeping the “integrity” of material.

“But mostly, it’s about money,” she said.

Kirtley said copyright owners would be more successful and more likely to go after the corporations that host these sites. A few successful lawsuits against Google would “send a powerful message,” she said.

Not only are Google’s deep pockets likely targets of lawsuits, but because it’s publicly traded, the company also has to deal with shareholders’ concerns about liability.

“They have a huge amount of money at stake,” Kirtley said.

University students who use YouTube to post their own videos, like marketing and entrepreneurial management junior Alex Moss, shouldn’t feel any effects of lawsuits.

Moss said he’s been watching clips on YouTube for the past three months and logs on daily to see how many people have viewed his five video clips, which included him dancing to rock songs in a bedroom and chanting anti-Iowa cheers. He said it’s good for YouTube to try to keep copyrighted material from being uploaded.

“It’s nice that they have a disclaimer that says not to use copyrighted material. Then they can regulate it a little bit and keep it from turning into another Napster,” Moss said, comparing the site to a former version of a file-sharing site.

Julie Supan, YouTube’s senior director of marketing, reiterated the company’s stance on copyright and said the content is created by the users and the site makes it clear that users must own or have permission from the copyright holder to post any videos.

“We take copyright issues very seriously,” she said. “We prohibit users from uploading infringing material and we cooperate with rights holders to identify and promptly remove infringing content.”

MySpace

MySpace, a unit of Fox Interactive Media Inc., announced last month that the company purchased technology that can block unauthorized copyrighted material from being posted to its site.

With Gracenote’s MusicID audio fingerprinting technology and Global Media Database, MySpace will be able to identify copyrighted music.

In the announcement, CEO and co-founder of MySpace Chris DeWolfe said the company intends to prohibit unauthorized use of copyrighted material on its site.

“MySpace is staunchly committed to protecting artists’ rights, whether those artists are on major labels or are independent acts,” he said.

The company also said it will permanently close accounts of any members who repeatedly try to upload copyrighted music.