DuetsBlog Collaborations in Creativity & the Law

Fair Use’s Jedi Knight

Posted in Copyrights, Mixed Bag of Nuts

This isn’t necessarily new news, but I thought it deserved a post regardless.  Back in late November, Google announced a new policy of pushing back against copyright holders issuing DMCA takedown notices regarding videos which Google believes make “fair use” of copyrighted material.  In Google’s words:

We are offering legal support to a handful of videos that we believe represent clear fair uses which have been subject to DMCA takedowns. With approval of the video creators, we’ll keep the videos live on YouTube in the U.S., feature them in the YouTube Copyright Center as strong examples of fair use, and cover the cost of any copyright lawsuits brought against them.

Hear, hear!  It appears that Google is taking seriously it’s changed corporate motto, which went from the passive “Don’t Be Evil,” to the active “Do the Right Thing” at the same time Google changed its corporate structure and put everything under the Alphabet umbrella.

Of course, it’s refreshing to see and it is “the right thing” for Google to stand up for fair use.  But let’s not be naïve.  This is undoubtedly a shrewd and calculated move for a company whose bread and butter is not creating its own content, but rather enhancing accessibility of content generated by others.  Google’s best known offerings other than search and website infrastructure–which themselves depend on content generated by others–are YouTube and Google Books.  Both depend heavily on a relaxation of traditional copyright norms and/or an expansion of fair use.  And this is BIG business-YouTube generated about $4 billion in revenue last year and will likely surpass that this year.

Fortunately, Google’s self interest in this case aligns with what I believe is the public interest.  Gigantic copyright holding organizations have, for too long, been able to throw their substantial weight around without any meaningful resistance.  The expense of litigation coupled with the possibility of life-destroying damages (or even imprisonment) authorized by the Copyright Act (seriously, copyright infringement can be punished more severely than violent crime), have allowed copyright holders to steam roll legitimate fair use, and they’ve had no qualms about the carnage.  We have been long waiting for someone to bring balance to the Force, and Google can fill this role.  In addition to the policy described above, they’ve also put together some nice materials on YouTube that make Copyright law accessible to the general public.  Consider me a fan, for now.