If you need proof of Google’s preeminence on the Internet, just look at the legal activity surrounding the company. In many ways Google is a lighting rod for issues that affect any company that aggregates content. The Internet is rapidly moving from a static medium to one that embraces multimedia and is no longer confined to desktop computers. Fights over who controls content on the Internet’s premier user-generated content platform will have a huge ripple effect for the traditional content industry and for upstart Internet content companies.

Tur v. YouTube

On June 20th, cross-motions for summary judgment were denied by Judge Cooper of the C.D. California. Photojournalist Robert Tur sued Google’s YouTube subsidiary for copyright infringement. In response to the motions for summary judgment, the court held that there was insufficient evidence to determine whether YouTube had the “right and ability” to control such infringing activity. See Evan D. Brown’s analysis for more information.

Viacom v. YouTube

With the Tur court focusing on whether YouTube could control the infringing activity, and if it made money from that activity, it will be interesting to see how the S.D. New York analyzes Viacom’s broad claims that YouTube is a business built on copyright infringement. While Google CEO Eric Schmidt has been telling the press this is just negotiation by other means, Viacom has been playing its cards close to the vest. See this Net Law post for more information.

The Football Association Premier League v. YouTube

The plaintiffs in this suit seek class certification, and have brought the usual host of infringement claims. AsProfessor Eric Goldman explains, this case is somewhat different in that the plaintiffs are attacking the Safe Harbor provisions directly, claiming that it is functionally inadequate for copyright holders.

New Jersey Turnpike Authority v. YouTube, et. al.

When video of a terrible automobile accident showed up on YouTube and other video sharing sites, the New Jersey Turnpike Authority sued, claiming that the video was taken by a videocamera controlled by a state agency, and was therefore subject to copyright. This suit also raises questions about the reach of state government in controlling arguably public information.

Cal IV v. YouTube

A country music publishing company is accusing YouTube of the usual litany of copyright offenses: direct infringement, inducement to infringe, vicarious in fringement and contributory infringement. Cal IV also claims that although they’re on YouTube’s Content Verification Program list, the program is ineffectual, as they keep finding their content on YouTube. See the writeup by Steve Bryant of Googlewatch for more info.

The Big Picture

All of these cases are broadly asking the same question: Should the content aggregator (in this case YouTube) be responsible for screening content for copyright violations? If so, to what degree? Should YouTube merely make tools available so that copyright holders can scour YouTube on their own, or should YouTube be doing the scouring themselves? Should everyone who has created a video at one time or another be given the tools to sift through YouTube in search of infringers? From there further questions rear their ugly heads. If Grokster’s blatant inducement to infringe brought its downfall, how much different is YouTube? The site hosts a huge variety of content, some of which is infringing, but much of which is original. How easy is it to police content for copyright violation? Have software vendors oversold the ability of their tools to find infringing content, leading to a nightmare scenario for content sharing sites in which copyright holder expectations exceed technical capabilities? Ultimately, will the rights of the millions of individual content creators and Internet users be just as well-protected as those of companies like Viacom? The media landscape is changing fast. Just ask one of the teenagers who has seen this guitar video. It has been viewed more than 23 million times.