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by Mike Zazaian October 18, 2006 - 11:44am, 14 Comments

Universal Hammers YouTube Clones

In a move that may be foreboding for the recent Google-YouTube merger, Universal Music Group is suing video-sharing sites Bolt.com and Grouper for copyright infringement.

Filed in the US District Court, Central District of California, Western Division, the lawsuit charges the two sites with copying, reformatting, distributing and creating derivative works from Universal’s musicians. The lawsuit stipulates that the two sites facilitated the illegal display of both music and music videos owned by Universal, and seeks $150,000 for each instance of infringement. Said a spokesman for Universal:

[Grouper and Bolt.com] cannot reasonably expect to build their business on the backs of our content and the hard work of our artists and songwriters without permission and without compensating the content creators.

As Grouper network was purchased by Sony Pictures Entertainment in August, the Universal lawsuit additionally suggests that Sony may also be accosted for damages in the matter.

Universal’s suit still falls into a gray area that has yet to be fleshed out fully by legal precedent. As such video-sharing sites have only had such immense traffic for the past year or so, courts have yet to determine whether the fault lies with such sites or their users. As the lawsuit goes forward both Grouper and Bolt.com are expected to defend themselves under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s Safe Harbor provision, especially indicating all efforts to remove potentially infringing content. Said Bolt CEO Aaron Cohen:

There’s no question that people upload copyrighted content from time to time and occasionally we receive official notices to remove content and we do.

Universal on the other hand would argue that such a claim is moot. Rather than isolated instances of such copyright violation, Universal has suggested that the very business models of Bolt.com and Grouper are based on “mass infringement,” as it is worded in the lawsuit. Of course not all of the content on Bolt.com and Grouper is copyrighted. As in the instance of YouTube, much of the content is completely original user-created video that holds no other intellectual property right. But even were it an immensely small portion of copyrighted content being uploaded by users, Bolt.com and Grouper would be held liable under the current legal climate, despite their efforts to prevent such instances of infringement.

What ultimately has to be called to question here is whether the world is better off with sites like Bolt.com, Grouper, and even YouTube. The immense growth of all three sites over the past year demonstrates an inherent need by the populous for the services that they offer. Whether the sites actions will be deemed legal remains to be seen, but with so many consumers and businesses benefiting from the sites, copyright holders would be better off to facilitate such sites rather than to attack them. It seems that the exposure alone that is gained by a Musician’s work being posted on such a site is worth whatever amount of traffic that work brings to the site it’s hosted on.

Bolt.com received 8.1 million visitors in August, while Grouper claimed a modest 1.8 million visitors. YouTube, by comparison, had 72.1 million visitors over the same time period.

[via cnet]
[via ars technica]