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Sour Grapes: Time To SueTube?

By - October 12, 2006

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Surprise: Time Warner is rattling copyright sabers (BoingBoing) over Google’s acquisition of YouTube. Let’s pull back and take a look at this, shall we? Time Warner not only owns a shitload of content that is now playing on YouTube, it also owns AOL, and with it the self-inflicted wounds which came from buying AOL, or rather, buying into the idea of AOL back when it had its mid-life crisis of confidence about its own ability to execute in that wooly digital world, that late 90s coke binge where it seemed everyone in California was poised to kick Time Warner’s collective ass. Thank God, it turned out to be wrong….for a few years, anyway.

But now, the problem is back, and it’s much more serious, at least, it’s serious if you’re committed to your old ways of doing business. And for those who are afraid of the future, its name is Google. Time Warner CEO Dick Parsons is in a tought spot – he knows that disparaging dismissals of the upstarts will no longer suffice. But damned if he won’t “fire a shot across the bow” in any case.

From the Guardian coverage:

Dick Parsons, the chairman and chief executive of Time Warner, fired a shot across the bows of Google, saying his group would pursue its copyright complaints against the video sharing site YouTube.com.

Be careful, Dick, for a shot across the bow may bring a broadside from the other side. And the gorgeous fact of it is this: The other side isn’t Google. It’s everyone who uses Google (and now, YouTube.) Huh. Worth a pause, a drink, and a think.

Update: Apparently more companies are rattling sabers. From the Journal:

…lawyers for the group of media companies, which includes News Corp., General Electric Co.’s NBC Universal and Viacom Inc., have concluded that YouTube could be liable to copyright penalties of $150,000 per unauthorized video, people familiar the matter say. Viacom believes that pirated versions of video clips from its cable channels — including MTV, Comedy Central and Nickelodeon — are watched 80,000 times a day via YouTube. At that rate, potential penalties could run into the billions of dollars.

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11 thoughts on “Sour Grapes: Time To SueTube?

  1. Soreng says:

    I don’t know, John. Copyrights have their place; if people where selling copies of your book and pocketing the profits would you say, “Ah, that is just the new way of doing business.” I think you would throw some shots too, no?

    Basically, I think most youtubers want free shit, and cool shit, and they will enjoy whatever is there. IF TW media is not shown, so be it. Will they boycott or make any effort to get back at TW . . . that I think takes too much thought. Why spend your time doing that when there is so much cool shit to watch? I doubt most users will have any beef with TW for a lawsuit. The bloggers will do their thing, but I really do not think most people feel much allegiance to Google or Youtube, particularly while they rake in billions of dollars. How can you feel sorry for 20 and 30 something billionaires who at least so far, do not seem to give much back (though they may some day). If Google/Youtube is somehow different than TW, and feel they deserve more respect and allegiance from users, I do not think they have proven it yet. I do think they are better, but not enough to get people very stirred about a lawsuit in my view.

  2. JG says:

    I have to agree with Soreng. Most youtubers want free s**t.

    I just got finished listening to a recent IT Conversations podcast, a session from the 2005 Web 2.0 conference entitled “What Teens Want”. In fact, I think you (John) introduced the session. (I wasn’t there myself, so apologies to all for whom this is old hat.)

    And the takeaway from the interview with these five teenagers was that the two things they wanted from people building next gen services was (1) “more free stuff”, and (2) fewer ads. Ads were really starting to piss some of these teens off. And all but one girl (if I remember correctly) had not paid for a single piece of media online. The one girl who had paid had only bought 10 iTunes songs, and had 1490 other copied/downloaded ones. Every other kid either ripped tunes from their friends or used bittorrent.

    So YouTube came along and gave them more free stuff. They got half of what they want. But is Google now going to come along and give them fewer ads? I don’t think so. And you think that is going to endear Google to these kids? When they see “Ads by Gooooooooogle” at the beginning of each video clip? The kids don’t care about the brand. They just want free stuff.

    Copyright itself is basically good, but using it to bash people is not. And DRM is particularly, insidiously evil, and it needs to die. But you don’t combat DRM and copyright abuses by throwing up massive-scale YouTubian piracy, setting a block on your shoulder, and saying, “so sue me!” Escalation is not the solution.

    (Funny thing is, I’ve spoken with high-ranking insiders at Google over the years about this copyright issue, and what is happening now completely contradicts everything they’ve told me. I’m really amazed by this complete about-face that we’re seeing right now. I really wonder what sort of internal discussions Google has been having lately, if everyone is in agreement or if there is a lot of debate right now about this whole move.)

  3. mtechReader says:

    This article doesn’t deserve a response. This blog should not be included in mtech.

    YOU LACK ALL KNOWLEDGE OF BUSINESS AND LAW.

    the problem with web 2.0 is that any idiot can put up a blog and pretend they know something. what a waste of 5 minutes of my life.

  4. Joe Hunkins says:

    >>> for a shot across the bow may bring a broadside from the other side >

    I don’t really follow you here John. I agree with you and Bob Dylan that “The Times They are a Changin’”, and that “The Time Warner’s they are NOT a changin’”. However I don’t see how bringing out the legal beasts will hurt Time Warner. Frankly, I think they just want Google to throw money at them. As the Napster buyout proved all this has little to do with “rights”, it’s a money grab.

  5. Anne O'Neimaus says:

    It will probably never happen, but Google does have the equivalent of a nuclear weapon to fight back with: Time Warner completely drops off the Google Ads and Search radar.
    That would hurt.

  6. Joe Hunkins says:

    >>> the problem with web 2.0 is that any idiot can put up a blog and pretend they know something

    Problem?! Maybe, but it also might be considered *Revolutionary tipping point of global significance in the history of communication*

    Six one way, half a dozen the other I guess.

  7. TomBomb says:

    John,

    Your comments are bang on–just another sign of old media writhing in its death throes, wallowing in its own detritus. Now if the folks at FM can ever respond to emails, perhaps you will have a better model for the future.

  8. What emails? Sorry if we have been swamped.

  9. Deep says:

    I think the whole YouTube aquisition is questionable for this reason, in addition to the sillyness of the price. I’m surprised Google’s lawyers didn’t spell this future of lawsuits out for them when the decision to aquire was being made. Companies get big, their bank accounts too, and everyone else, lawyers leading the charge, wants to sue their way to the wealth.

  10. garypool says:

    Time Warner reminds me of George Steinbrenner. They are always trying to buy a penant. They spend all their money on has-beens or soon-to-be has-beens and then begin crying when one of the other teams picks up a good player. Google will be alright. No worries Mate!

  11. nalts says:

    The YouTube boys were brilliant to sell the problem to deeper pockets and walk away with Google stock. I’d sell as much as I could.

    This is a mess for at least three reasons:
    1) There’s not yet a business model
    2) There are major copyright issues that could eliminate much of the content on YouTube.
    3) The rest of the stuff (submitted by copyright owners) is based on volunteer workers who make no money. Now there are places to distribute your content AND get some of the advertising revenue (Revver/Metacafe). The creators will follow the money, the viewers will follow the creators, and the advertising will follow the viewers eyeballs.