Google’s recent announced plans to purchase You Tube has ignited a veritable blizzard of discussion about potential copyright litigation that could result from the user-generated content that forms the backbone of the You Tube experience.  For broadcasters who have been venturing into the on-line world, this discussion highlights the cautions that they should exercise in dealing with their own websites.

The issue has been raised as so many of the videos posted on You Tube contain copyrighted material, often used without permission from the Copyright holder.  While You Tube has reached agreements with some record labels and broadcast networks for use of their copyrighted material in exchange for some revenue sharing, other rights holders have not yet reached agreements.  Discussions of the purchase and the issues raised by the use of this copyrighted material can be found in many publications, including those in the Wall Street Journal and a discussion with the Electronic Freedom Foundation’s Fred von Lohmann on SearchBlog.  These discussions focus on the defense from the Digital Millennium Copyright Act that gives bulletin board-type services exemptions from copyright liability if they do not encourage the violations, and act promptly to remove any material that they have been notified is in violation of the Copyright laws. 

Whether or not the DMCA fully protects Google, the discussion highlights the need for broadcasters to use care in their use of user-generated material on their website.  While broadcasters need not shun all user-generated content, they need to make sure that they have done their diligence.  Broadcasters should review the terms of use on their sites, making sure that they warn those who may post home-grown videos that they should not contain copyrighted material without permission of the owner.  If notified that their sites nevertheless contain copyrighted material for which no permission has been given, they should promptly take steps to remove the offending material.  And, if feasible, the broadcasters should even consider ways to identify infringing material and to remove such material.  And they should watch developments with You Tube and other similar sites.