In the ongoing copyright debates, areas of common ground are seemingly few and far between. It’s easy to forget that not all approaches to combating copyright infringement are mired in controversy. One belief that unites many stakeholders across the spectrum is that more efforts are needed to educate Internet users about copyright. The Internet has spawned legions of amateur content creators, but not all of the content that’s being created is original. Indeed, a great deal of online copyright infringement owes to widespread ignorance of copyright law and its penalties.
For its part, Google yesterday unveiled “Copyright School” for YouTube users. As Justin Green explains on the official YouTube blog, users whose accounts have been suspended for allegedly uploading infringing content will be required to watch this video and then correctly answer questions about it before their account will be reinstated:
Of course, boiling down the basics of copyright into a four and a half minute video is not an easy task, to put it mildly. (The authoritative treatment of copyright law, Nimmer on Copyright, fills an 11-volume treatise.) Copyright geeks and fans of “remix culture” will appreciate that Google’s video touches on fair use and includes links to in-depth resources for users to learn more about copyright. It will be interesting to see how Google’s effort influences the behavior of YouTube users and the incidence of repeat infringement.
Update: EFF’s Corynne McSherry has an essay up on the Deeplinks blog arguing that YouTube’s Copyright School video omits several important facts about copyright. She raises several very good points, but the unfortunate reality of copyright law is that uploading content that’s not substantially original — even in cases that might constitute fair use — is legally risky, particularly for those who aren’t familiar with copyright law. While I’d love to see YouTube create a follow-up video that explains fair use doctrine in an accessible manner, Google’s decision to urge YouTube uploaders to err on the side of caution is quite reasonable in light of the severity of the statutory penalties for copyright infringement.