Disney, Microsoft, Others Take a Copyright Stance

A consortium of media and Internet companies announced a set of guidelines to protect copyrights online on October 19. Among the group, which has been negotiating for nine months, were Walt Disney Co.; Microsoft; NBC Universal; Viacom, Inc.; CBS Corp.; News Corp.'s MySpace and Fox constituents; Veoh Networks, Inc.; and Dailymotion S.A. Noticeable for its absence was Google, including YouTube, which has recently been sued for $1 billion for infringement by Viacom.

The group pledged not to pursue Internet companies that posted material if they adhered to a set of rules, which include eliminating copyright-infringing content posted by users before making it publicly available.

Google issued a statement pointing out that it does remove infringing material once it is notified of its existence. "We appreciate ideas from the various media companies on effective content identification technologies," said YouTube. "We're glad they realize the need to cooperate on these issues, and we'll keep working with them to refine our industry-leading tools."

We have yet to see a complete list of the rules of engagement for the conglomerate, but one suggestion calls for the implementation of "commercially reasonable" content identification technology by the end of the year. This gives us some pause, quite frankly, since it seems to be a step towards labeling content as wholly owned in its entirety, which is not quite the case.

The problem is that most people, large conglomerates included, don't understand fair use, and that has a chilling effect on the public discourse and media literacy that goes beyond amusing YouTube videos. This misunderstanding of fair use has led to what the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has characterized as "widespread, institutional fear of infringement [which] inhibits teachers seeking to leverage technology and media to achieve educational goals."

This is supported by a recently published report by the American University Center for Social Media (in partnership with the Washington College of Law’s Program on Information Justice and Intellectual Property and the Media Education Lab of Temple University). The report, The Cost of Copyright Confusion for Media Literacy presents results from interviews conducted throughout 2007, illustrating the challenges faced by teachers, librarians, and others involved in bringing real media examples into the classroom.

We're glad that the media companies recognize the need for a uniform set of rules to control fair use and fair play; we just hope they're serious about those goals because quotation and commentary will form an increasing component of our ongoing intellectual discussion as we go forward and we need to ensure that discussion remains open and free.