It's an American success story. Three young men, working out of a tiny office in Northern California, created an innovative online technology in February 2005, and it took the world by storm. In less than two years, their creation--YouTube--became one of the most prominent and popular Web sites on the Internet. And YouTube's owners garnered themselves a $1.65 billion payday when they recently sold the company to Google.
According to one prominent copyright owner, however, YouTube's success is the result of massive theft. Viacom--the New York-based media giant whose subsidiaries include Comedy Central, Paramount Pictures and Country Music Television--has claimed that many people flock to YouTube to watch pirated copies of Viacom's movies and TV shows. And Viacom has decided to do something about this rampant piracy.
"Viacom seems to be saying, 'We don't like the compromise that the DMCA has set out, and we want to go around the law,'" says Wendy Seltzer, a fellow at Harvard Law School's Berkman Center for Internet and Society--a research program that explores cyberspace issues.
It's thus unclear how much a Viacom victory in court would help content companies' bottom lines. Such a result, however, would be a major blow to online innovation, some experts argue.
"It would thwart progress on ways to display content on the Internet," Iser says. "People would be afraid to go forward ?? 1/2 for fear of being sued."