Are Copyright Laws Falling Behind in the YouTube Era?

Last week, a Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals judge in Illinois ruled that embedding copyrighted material on your website is not copyright infringement.

The two-year battle stems from a copyright infringement lawsuit brought by Flava Works, Inc. against a video streaming site called MyVidster. Judge Richard Posner argued that no one — not the viewer or the uploader — is responsible for copyright infringement when a video not owned by the uploader is viewed on sites like YouTube. The simple act of viewing does not constitute copyright infringement, and Flava Works, Inc. cannot get any compensation.

Judge Posner wrote in his ruling: “…As long as the visitor makes no copy of the copyrighted video that he is watching, he is not violating the copyright owner’s exclusive right … His bypassing Flava’s pay wall by viewing the uploaded copy is equivalent to stealing a copyrighted book from a bookstore and reading it. That is a bad thing to do (in either case) but it is not copyright infringement.”

However, the archaic copyright law has prompted Judge Posner to ask Congress to clarify how the law should be enforced in the age of internet video. I couldn’t agree more; however, the current copyright law enforcement and lawsuits have skewed against individual users and benefited traditional media.

When Judge Posner talks about “as long as the visitor makes no copy of the copyrighted video,” it’s unfortunate that when you watch a video on YouTube, it usually keeps a copy of the video as long as you stay on your browser. Therefore, this vague phrase that Judge Posner talks about could be interpreted many ways whether the individual is deliberately violating the law or not.

Even if copyright infringement did exist, it would be prohibitively costly for strong enforcement on sites like YouTube, and fining violators to the roof would not keep costs down. Our recent infographic shows that it could cost up to $37 billion for paying screeners around the clock to thoroughly scan YouTube videos.

Copyright law must be updated in order to keep with the times; as technologies change so should laws. The government and businesses should find solutions that won’t hurt businesses and creators’ bottom line while at the same not disproportionately affecting the average YouTube viewer. Threatening average users with copyright infringement for merely viewing a video is not the solution.

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