There are three sides to YouTube, really.

There’s the uploading of ‘user-generated content’ with little in the way of legal consequences. Films of cats falling asleep, self-composed piano pieces, recordings of the end-of-year speech at school, even ‘happy slapping’ etc. Setting aside incidental use of copyrighted materials (just for the current discussion), these aren’t very important to copyright lawyers – but are interesting to people like me doing research on media regulation and so on – how do you regulate for ‘obscenity’ with 50,000 filmmakers? Do we want to? And so on. When talk radio shows talk about the evils of YouTube, they normally mean this sort of stuff.

There’s the interesting, creative, remix culture – cutting up bits of Bush speeches to make it seem like he’s singing Sunday Bloody Sunday, kids lipsynching to pop songs. And so on. Of huge cultural significance, and posing a major challenge to the traditional legal understanding of things like derivative works, parody and so on. This doesn’t get the parents as worried, is strongly defended by Commons-types, and is probably ultimately solved by some sort of blanket licensing arrangement.

And then there’s the simple rip/capture/upload of TV shows, films, etc. Some of this is from the archives (people digitising old tapes of 80s music videos, etc). Some of it is very short (the 60 seconds on whatever bit of live TV where someone got it wrong). Some of it is even ‘official’ uploading by record companies and so on – getting the music video out there as a promotional tool. But a lot of it is simply recording this week’s episode of Lost, or the last DVD’s worth of the West Wing, and shoving it onto YouTube. It’s not UGC, and it’s not creative – it’s an easy-to-figure, Napster-like challenge to copyright, with a different technological approach (pseudo-streaming, but downloadable by tech-savvy users). Sometimes when I tell people that I’m interested in YouTube and the law, they (naturally) think I mean this sort of stuff. It’s not really my thing, but it’s probably the most prominent of the legal issues. And so we have today’s story.

Viacom v Gootube is on. Guardian, Slashdot, Lessig. Findlaw has the key document, which doesn’t tell us that much (although it does include a detailed list of alleged infringements, hopefully they actually checked them this time).

Popcorn, anyone?