Premier League sues YouTube, no more free football videos?

Your biggest source for football videos is under attack.

The English Premier League is suing YouTube for allowing users to upload video clips of goals and key incidents from Premiership games.

If you remember, the Premier League went after YouTube last year and got them to shut down thousands of user accounts for uploading goal videos. Apparently for the Premier League there hasn’t been enough cooperation from YouTube and they have now filed a class action lawsuit (complete with its own website) and intend to drag YouTube through mud and eventually, court.

Here’s some additional text from the Reuters news release:

According to court documents filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, the Football Association Premier League Ltd, better known as the English Premier League, and music publisher Bourne Co. sued YouTube.

The lawsuit charges that YouTube deliberately encourages massive copyright infringement on its Web site to generate public attention and boost traffic. This has resulted in the loss of valuable content, the complaint said.

“Defendants, which own and operate the Web site, have knowingly misappropriated and exploited this valuable property for their own gain without payment or license to the owners of the intellectual property,” the lawsuit said.

Last month, media conglomerate Viacom Inc. filed a similar lawsuit against YouTube and its parent, Google, alleging “massive copyright infringement” and seeking damages of more than $1 billion from the defendants.

The latest lawsuit seeks a court-ordered injunction to prohibit the defendants from continuing to violate various copyright protection laws.

The complaint says YouTube has engaged in a “deliberate strategy of … facilitating copyright infringement” in order to build traffic to the site.

The language of the lawsuit – that YouTube has deliberately encouraged copyright infringement in order to build traffic to the site – and the history of these two parties (The Premier League has been actively working with YouTube through a 3rd party intermediary NetResults to shut down accounts that upload Premiership-related videos) suggests that the Premier League doesn’t think enough is being done to protect their rights.

At this point it’s important step back and consider what’s at stake. The Premier League makes a LOT of money through licensing matches and broadcasts. To lose that revenue due to people creating clips and uploading them without permission makes for a difficult situation.

From my perpective, the allegations are false. The Premier League is assuming certain things about YouTube’s intentions which make this a muddy and difficult case to deal with. YouTube could easily argue that their platform is designed to facilitate video sharing AND that they are bringing through anti-copyright infringement functionality into YouTube by the end of 2007 (both of which are true).

I also find Premier League’s methods distasteful, most of which suggest to me that there was a complete breakdown of communication between the two sides and that this lawsuit is based on anger, mistrust and an opportunity to milk the situation for what it’s worth (putting up a tagline that says: “has your copyright been infringed by YouTube?” on the class-action website when the only serious party here is the Premier League smacks of propaganda).

The Premier League is within its rights to protect its copyright and SHOULD do so. I’m no legal expert but my understand of fair use (stateside and in UK, where it goes by a different name) suggest that while the Premier League have a strong case, the fact that only short clips are used (1-2 mins on average compared to a 90 mins game) will make it difficult for them.

Ultimately, this conflict suggests that there is a big gap between what football fans want and what the Premier League is providing. If they were to offer a similar service on their own website where clips from matches were available for a small monthly fee (something like what official club sites do), they would not only get a lot of revenue but would also cut down on much of the copyright infringement by reducing the demand for it.

Reducing demand doesn’t end it though, but by working on both ends – controlling copyright infringement while reducing the demand for it – will be the right thing to do for the fans.

We are, after all, assuming that the Premier League will cater to the fans as long as its financial interests are being served.

More Reading:

Reuters news report
Website of the YouTube class-action
BBC coverage

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