Wall Street Journal on Viacom v. YouTubeMarch 23, 2007

Walter Mossberg of the Wall Street Journal has a column discussing the Viacom v. YouTube case (previously blogged about here). Mr. Mossberg thinks the problem is not confined to the particular dispute between Viacom and YouTube/Google, but rather is indicative of a need for greater guidance in copyright law from Congress. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which was supposed to help to bring copyright law into the digital age, was passed in 1998. Many technologies available now were not even conceived of in 1998, so Mr. Mossberg points out that there is uncertainty with regard to what is and is not permissible under copyright law and the DMCA with regard to these new technologies.

More thoughts on these issues after the jump.

Some of the claimed uncertainty with the DMCA involves older concepts, such as the concept of fair use codified in 17 U.S.C. § 107. Fair use is a balancing act between the rights of copyright holders and the rights of the public to use copyrighted material for certain protected purposes, such as those protected by the First Amendment. The "uncertainty" caused by fair use is that every case is different: use of a 30-second sound clip may be fair use in one situation but copyright infringement in another. It is this fact-intensive nature of fair use that also results in the uncertainty Mr. Mossberg notes in his column. However, because fair use concepts are difficult to define with bright-line rules, a legislative solution to this "uncertainty" may not be possible. What makes Mr. Mossberg's column even more interesting is that he has a corresponding video column on the same issue. Either click here for the video on the issue, or just click below:

Mr. Mossberg wants clearer guidance from Congress to help sort these issues out. In the mean time, we will be watching the Viacom v. YouTube case closely, as it has the potential to further shape how copyright law will interact with the Internet. Hat tip: PK and EFF.

Update: The Daily Show (on Viacom's Comedy Central network) provides this amusing video regarding the lawsuit.

Further update: Jason Fry of the Wall Street Journal also weighs in on the state of copyright law.

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