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Google’s Problem Solving Year?

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Looking Back

You already know that YouTube is huge. But did you know it’s so big, that, according to comScore, if YouTube were an independent search engine, it would rank third behind only Google and Yahoo?

YouTube isn’t independent, of course. Its Google’s $1.65 billion prized acquisition. And, over the summer, Google finally began to work toward fully monetizing the site by rolling out InVideo ads, which are contextually targeted and translucent flash ads that pop up from a video’s bottom while its playing.

But for Google to fully realize YouTube’s promise, it needs to solve a $1 billion problem. In March, media conglomerate Viacom filed suit against Google for “massive intentional copyright infringement,” and sought more than $1 billion in damages as well as an injunction prohibiting Google and YouTube from further copyright infringement, according to the suit.

Viacom contended that Google intentionally avoided taking “proactive steps” to prevent viewers from accessing almost 160,000 Viacom clips on YouTube.

Since Viacom filed suit, Google has taken two tracks to finding a solution. It has crafted a legal argument saying that it should not have to meet Viacom’s demands. And, at the same time, its has pursued technological solutions that would allow it to meet all of Viacom’s demands.

Google bases its legal argument almost entirely on section 5.12 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). YouTube product counsel Glenn Brown told the DMCA recognizes that if Internet companies with hosted services, such as YouTube or Google, were liable for user copyright infringement, it would be too difficult for them to grow as businesses.

The difficulty, Google argues, stems from how hard it is for a hosted service to tell when the content uploaded to its site is copyright infringing or not. Partly, this is because only copyright holders know whether their content is copyrighted or not. But also, Google argues, these copyright holders also have “weirdly” different preferences as to what they’d want Google to do with their content, once its discovered on YouTube.

Viacom disagrees with this interpretation of the DMCA on all counts, of course. They say: How hard can it be to recognize a Hollywood film uploaded to YouTube?

But, the truth is, both parties will privately recognize that the copyright issue on YouTube is more likely to be solved by an engineer than a lawyer.

To that end, Google has been quietly working toward a technology solution. Some of its efforts even Viacom has applauded. In October, Google l launched YouTube Video Identification, a tool to help copyright owners identify and manage their content when it’s uploaded to YouTube.

“We’re delighted that Google appears to be stepping up to its responsibility and ending the practice of profiting from infringement,” Viacom’s chief lawyer, Michael Fricklas, said on hearing the news.

As soon as copyright holders began to voice complaints that the tool wasn’t quite so as effective as promised, however, Google quickly reverted to its legal defense, essentially telling Viacom and Co. to take it or leave it. But then, more recently, Google expanded its YouTube Partner Program, offering to pay content creators for original video uploaded to YouTube.

Heading into 2008, expect this pattern of defensive talk and eager-to-please engineering to continue at Google.

Meanwhile, expect Viacom and other major content creators from Hollywood and New York to try to satisfy the consumer demand that had users flocking to YouTube for produced content in the first place. Already, NBC and News Corp formed a joint venture Hulu to do just that. Even Viacom now allows users to embed much of its content — including short form clips from the Daily Show — across the Internet.

This article was first published on

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