Friday, July 04, 2008

Safe Harbours in a Copyright and Privacy Storm

Can you determine who someone is and where reside by their computer IP address?

In the interesting and ground breaking Google versus Viacom, Google have argued that YouTube viewing data should be kept from Viacom, to protect the privacy of its users. However Google in the past has also rejected demands by privacy groups for more protection of I.P. address records, claiming that in most cases the addresses cannot be used to identify users. So that pretty unclear then!

A federal judge has ordered Google to give Viacom its records of which users watched which videos on YouTube as Viacom press it’s $1 billion copyright suit against Google. The judge requires Google to hand over to Viacom the login name of every user who had watched it, and their IP computer address. The data covered by the order includes every video watched on YouTube since its founding in 2005. In April this year, 82 million watched 4.1 billion clips some say virtually every Internet user has visited YouTube at some time.

So we have on one hand the handing over of personal access information, on the other we must ask about the about of information the likes of Google has in its vaults.
Viacom claim that YouTube’s success was built on the popularity of copyrighted clips that were illegally posted to the site and that the data will validate that but the user rights issues and data issues this case raises go far greater than the case itself.

We now read that from a different legal angle EMI has filed a federal suit against VideoEgg and its partner site Hi5, alleging that they are responsible for the EMI-controlled music videos that they display.

ISPs are generally not liable for the content passing through their networks, but the question now is whether the new social networks and sites like YouTube are in the same legal position. Viacom and EMI say they're not. They argue that both YouTube and VideoEgg knew about the material abuse VideoEgg claims to have "humans review every video."

Meanwhile ISP Virgin Media has begun sending out 800 letters to users who have allegedly been using their connections for file sharing purposes. The campaign is in partnership with the British Phonographic Industry(BPI). BPI has been reported as saying that "thousands more" would be sent in the near future. The envelopes state, "Important: If you don't read this, your broadband could be disconnected."
However, Virgin have stated to BBC Newsbeat that there was "absolutely no possibility" of legal action being taken against users as part of the current campaign, and that it wouldn't hand over user information "under any circumstances." A mixed message there then!

In 1998, US Congress passed the On-Line Copyright Infringement Liability Limitation Act (OCILLA). Codified as 512 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), the law shelters on-line service providers that meet the defined ‘safe harbour’ provisions from claims of copyright infringement made against them that result from the conduct of their customers. These ‘safe harbour’ provisions are designed to shelter service providers from the infringing activities of their customers.

So what is a ‘safe harbour’ and who will define the rules? Copyright infringement is a serious issue but so is personal privacy. We await more litigation and hope that common sense will prevail.

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