YouTube vs. Viacom: Should YouTube be torn apart by piranhas?

Anti-"Moving the Free Line" blogger Hank Williams (no, not that Hank Williams) argues in a recent post on his "Why does everything suck?" blog that YouTube is a scourge, has no business model, and that in the pending lawsuit against them over alleged copyright infringements by way of things such as small clips of The Daily Show and Colbert Report…

"they are going to lose the Viacom lawsuit in a really big way. If that happens, not only will there be a massive liability, but it will open the doors to everyone else sitting on the sidelines letting Sumner Redstone do the hard work. YouTube will be torn apart by plaintiffs like piranha[s] going after fresh bloody meat."

Even though I love the piranhas metaphor, I beg to differ on the premise that Viacom is acting in its own best interest in this ongoing saga. I think they are cutting into their own flesh.

(Others with more legal knowledge than me have argued that even from a copyright infringement stand-point, Viacom has at best only a limited leg to stand on, but we’ll see, courts can be… uhm… tricky. Read more on this in the comments to Hank’s post).

Exhibit A: Rupert Murdoch (of News Corp./FOX/WSJ/etc.) said in an interview in late May:

Q: So why didn’t you sue YouTube? Plenty of pirated stuff there. A: All the time. Simpsons are all over it. We had mixed feelings about it, but when it came down to it, we figured it was doing more to promote our shows than it was to hurt them.

(AllThingsD.com via AlleyInsider.com)

Therefore, in my view Viacom (Sumner Redstone) is taking the worst possible route: The recent court subpoena for YouTube’s viewing records is already a PR disaster. What Viacom should have done/be doing is force YouTube/Google into a deal where they get to place ads next to this "appropriated" content, and get a share of the fees plus free advertising for themselves (e.g. in the end frame).

But after you threaten and posture, you lose most leverage that you might have had to politely force a Win-Win. (BTW, I don’t hold Google entirely blameless in this, they could have done more to court the "old media" content providers, and might be monetizing YouTube a lot more efficiently than they have been doing so far. Which is to say, they haven’t.)

Better yet, they (Viacom) should have been the ones uploading the content THEMSELVES on YouTube, with their own link text showing, etc. (rather than create me-too sites that are slow to catch mind-share). If they were even marginally Web-savvy, they would have surfed the YouTube wave themselves, and would now be positioned a lot better than they are.

This way they could have LEVERAGED YouTube for their own purposes, sending people from there to their full-scale episodes. I said 2-3 years ago that I’d be willing to pay $1 for each of my favorite Daily Show episodes, etc. Why did Viacom fail to see that they could have had their own iTunes-like TV content distribution?!?

This copyright infringement thinking is pure scarcity mentality: It is one thing for an unknown author to not want their articles/books/etc. being used verbatim and without attribution somewhere else, but for a well-worn-in BRAND such as Viacom’s shows, that’s simply not the problem. Everybody already knows who created it and where it runs. (This is BTW the reason why YOU MUST BRAND!)

Nurture the Infected?!

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