Google Inc. and many Internet companies hold that they cannot be held liable for whatever happens on their video sharing and social networking sites. Telephone companies aren’t held liable if people plan a murder over the telephone, so why should Internet companies, according to Google.
An Indian company, the makers of the T-Series music and videos, thinks otherwise. It has sued Google and YouTube for allegedly infringing its copyrights, as a lot of its copyrighted content is claimed to be available without permission on YouTube. A court in Delhi has passed an interim restraining order on Google and YouTube which would require YouTube to pull down all content on their site that could be in infringement of T-Series’ copyrights, according to this report in InfoWorld.
Google has been pushing for an amendment to section 79 of the Indian Information Technology Act 2000 that will remove the liability of network service providers for content posted by users. The current version of section 79 requires that the network service provider prove that the offense or contravention was committed without their knowledge or that they had exercised all due diligence to prevent the commission of such offense or contravention.
Interestingly, T-Series seems to have filed the case under the Indian Copyright Act, and not under the Information Technology Act, according to this blog. The lawyer for T-Series is quoted by Infoworld as saying that YouTube is not a neutral intermediary but a web site that makes money from clicks on advertising on its site.
The dispute between Internet sharing sites and media companies is unlikely to get resolved anytime soon. There have however been moves by companies like NBC Universal and Walt Disney and other media companies who announced last month a set of guidelines for user-generated content (UGC) services, without infringing copyrights. Among the measures proposed is the implementation of filtering technology with the goal to eliminate infringing content on UGC services, including blocking infringing uploads before they are made available to the public. Google was not among these companies, though MySpace was part of the annoucement.
Google seems to be worried that too much control may make sharing and social networking sites less popular. The issue is about how much of control. The media companies are willing to allow fair use of copyrighted content, which is what is required for the flowering of creativity around orginal content. Lowering controls beyond that would be a license for illicit use of copyrighted content.
Just as media companies want to push for copyright enforcement on networking and sharing sites, there is a section of government and society in India that is pushing for greater control over what gets posted on these sites. The offer by Google and other Internet companies to pull down objectionable material post-facto is not seen as good enough. If there can be filters to prevent uploading of copyrighted material, why can’t tech savvy companies come up with filters for pornography for example. Google should listen rather than play the same old tune of intermediary neutrality.