YouTube sets up $1 million legal fund for certain creators

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Copyright symbol. YouTube.

Copyright symbol. YouTube.

YouTube, the world’s largest video sharing site is no stranger to copyright controversies, including lawsuits. This is not surprising considering that approximately 82 million videos have been uploaded to the site since its inception in 2005.

Realizing that copyright law needed to keep pace with technology, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DCMA) was passed and signed into law in 1998. The intent of the law was to update copyright law in regards to e-commerce and electronic content providers, and to make illegal the circumvention of digital and electronic copyright protection systems.

Viacom. YouTube.

Back in 2007, Viacom, a global media company which owns the rights to a vast array of television shows and movies that air on approximately 170 networks that the company operates, sued YouTube for $1 billion. Viacom accused YouTube of facilitating “massive intentional copyright infringement,” naming approximately 160,000 clips on the service for which they held the copyright.

YouTube countered by claiming protection under the “safe harbor” provision of the DMCA. This provision shields certain companies that are indirectly involved in the distribution of content from liability. After nearly six-years of legal battles, a judge ruled in favor of YouTube in 2013.

Still, YouTube uploads continue to be removed from the site under DMCA guidelines. And YouTube and other content-sharing sites continue to straddle the fine line between copyright infringement and “fair use” law, which allows for copying content in certain limited situations.

This past week YouTube announced it would be helping content creators who are “unfairly targeted” for DMCA infractions. Fred von Lohmann, the legal director for YouTube wrote in a recent blog post on the company’s copyright page that the company will pay the legal bills for only a “handful” of creators, to start. The cap the amount of this legal fund is set at $1 million. “While we can’t offer legal protection to every video creator – or even every video that has a strong fair use defense – we’ll continue to resist legally unsupported DMCA takedowns as part of our normal processes,” wrote von Lohmann.

Meanwhile, internet advocacy groups such as The Electronic Frontier Foundation are not completely satisfied, claiming YouTube should be doing more to protect the fair use on their platform. On their website they wrote “while we would like the program to do a little bit more—for example, given that the main criteria is that a video must be clearly lawful we’d like YouTube to provide any user that meet that criteria the option of enrolling their video into the program, rather than hand-selecting which ones gets to participate.”

Legal Battles. Copyright Holder. 

The question is what will be the affect of these legal battles on both copyright holders and the public’s demand for information and entertainment. And what does the future hold for video and information sharing websites such as YouTube? Only time will tell.

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