Clash of the Titans

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Studies have shown that people are more than willing to watch commercials, but want more flexibility as to when, where and how they watch their televisions shows. In that way the networks are failing their advertisers as well as their customers.

Some networks have caught on, and offer downloads and clips from their most popular shows with the commercials intact, on proprietary viewers that don’t allow people to fast forward. The iTunes Music and Video store now offers dozens of shows for nominal fees, starting at around $2, and has millions of happy customers. Viacom itself has the MotherLoad service to broadcast clips of their shows, although it doesn’t work very well.

On the other hand, Google should have known better. Although there’s a certain benefit to getting in first, and being number one, Google basically painted a huge target on their corporate headquarters when they bought YouTube. I also doubt Viacom will be the last company to sue Google over copyright, and that other networks are watching closely to see whether the suit passes the first legal tests. Microsoft is also threatening suit over Google’s efforts to digitize millions of books.

Sometimes you have to go to court to make your point or force an issue, but the level of exposure is huge for Google. They’ve already invested $1.65 billion in YouTube, which they now have to defend to the bitter end. A defanged, copyright-free YouTube is probably worthless.

At a higher level, this suit is also about more than Viacom and Google, given the precedent it could create.

For Viacom and the television industry, it represents an opportunity to assert some control over the Internet, and establish themselves as the dominant player in new media.

For Google, the suit represents an opportunity to reassert the validity of consumer-driven media, as well as the ascendancy of the Internet over other media. By their logic, companies like Viacom are stifling innovation, which is the lifeblood of the economy and society as a whole.

Given what’s at stake, it would almost be a shame if this issue were settled out of court.


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