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YouTube vs. Viacom: Everybody Wins?

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[Note: The above video is definitely not intended for children.]

A federal judge yesterday ruled in favor of Google and YouTube yesterday in Viacom’s lawsuit, saying that the site was not liable for copyright infringement because its users had uploaded copyrighted video to the site. The ruling, which Viacom says it will appeal, is probably not going to change your online viewing habits; as a New York Times piece notes, YouTube’s filtering technology and current practices have since made pirated videos much harder to post and leave up on the site than in YouTube’s early days. But the suit is a good reminder of how much online video options have changed in just the few years since the lawsuit was filed.

In 2006 or 2007, after all, you might have gone to YouTube to find clips of TV shows, or entire episodes, not simply because you were cheap or wanted to rob creative artists, but because there were few other options. Some outlets, like Viacom’s Comedy Central, moved online early, but many networks didn’t, which contributed to the piracy that pervaded YouTube in its early days. (And that, Viacom would claim with some merit, helped to build the company.)

Today, it’s far easier to find, watch and embed video for a lot of TV programming—a good portion of major-network shows, and a lot of cable excepting for pay-cable channels. And thanks to Hulu or to networks’ proprietary sites, the video tends to be much better than those early pirated videos (though online streaming can still be frustrating some places). The show that you can’t catch online if you miss it live, the late-night show that you can’t see clips of, is now the exception rather than the rule.

TV networks discovered that the best response to people posting video online was not lawsuits, but providing what their customers obviously wanted, and providing it better. They may not have solved the problem of monetizing online video, though they’re getting closer, but what they’re doing now beats playing whack-a-mole with uploaders.

Meanwhile, YouTube chugs along just fine without five billion pirated Family Guy clips. And it in turn can focus on what it does best, which is awesome stuff like the clip (NSFW) above. Copyright or no, this mashup is good for Toy Story, good for The Wire and definitely good for the rest of us.

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