July 22, 2006
Journalist Sues YouTube

The RIAA and C-SPAN aren't the only ones raising a stir about YouTube these days. Now, the site which provides services for user-generated online video content is bein sued for copyright infringement by an independent reporter who is angered by use of his materials on the site.

This marks the first lawsuit filed against YouTube. The reporter, Robert Tur, filed the lawsuit over a week ago, angered about the use of his clips from coverage of the 1992 L.A. riots and the famous Ford Bronco O.J. Simpson slow-speed chase that pre-empted an entire Friday night of good television back in 1994. Well, TGIF might not have been that good, but it sure seemed so at the time.

In previous cases, such as the showdown with C-SPAN over the clips of Stephen Colbert's..err...tribute to the president from the White House Correspondents Dinner, the site simply removed the offending material. YouTube states in their official policy that they do not police their site but, if contacted regarding a particular clip, they will remove it if they find that the person who posted it did indeed lack the copyright permission to do so.

This journalist wants $150,000 in damages for each video clip presented. Obviously, most of this is a pretty innocent situation. The people who posted the news clips probably didn't feel they were doing much wrong, considering the massive amount of copyrighted material posted on YouTube. Most stations are not coming after the company, particularly because the copyrighted content on the site is often placing a program in a positive light, with fans sharing clips with each other. For instance, I recently wrote about the scenes and montages posted to YouTube of various fan tributes to As the World Turns actor Benjamin Hendrickson after his death. And, YouTube has become the home of many fan-produced videos that use images from real shows, such as here or here or here or here.

But this freelance journalist, Robert Tur, does not believe that simply removing the copyrighted material is enough, considering that he's taking YouTube to court in hopes of gaining a significant amount of money from them. After all, one can only wonder how permanently damaged the journalist might be from having these news clips shared among people on the YouTube site. YouTube has already removed the video footage in question and upholds its policy of not policing content unless a question is raised.

Meanwhile, media companies such as NBC and MTV2 are starting to work with YouTube, and NBC has only winkingly complained at the leaking of the Nobody's Watching pilot on the site. The mixed signals are pretty hard to understand by the fan community, but Tur's case will be an important testing site for determining which direction we'll be going--a prohibitionist strain of thought that will serve to restrict the future of convergence culture or a more collaborative stance. That's not to say that I don't think copyright should be respected, since I do, but I have seen few cases so far where I have been convinced that the types of video content aired on YouTube really destroys any bottom line for companies...or journalists.