News: Maybe the ride is over. Lawyers from the Wilson, Sonsini law firm representing YouTube just sent the blog Tech Crunch a “cease and desist” letter for disseminating a program that enables people to download YouTube videos onto their computers. The letter is available on TechCrunch’s site.
According to YouTube’s lawyers, TechCrunch’s dissemination of the download tool enables people to copy the copyrighted videos on YouTube without authorization, thus inducing copyright infringement. The letter also claims that YouTube is causing YouTube users to violate their Terms of Service, which allegedly is tortious interference with a business relationship and an unfair business practice under California law. The Wilson, Sonsini lawyer even alleges that the Tech Crunch blog is engaging in “false advertising” by using the term “YouTube Video Downloader Tool.”
Analysis: OK, I’m a regular reader of the Tech Crunch blog, so I’ll try not to be biased. If you’ve read my blog before, you know I generally love what YouTube has done so far. But not here.
First, the threatening tone of YouTube’s “cease and desist” letter is a little bit offputting. The Tech Crunch blog points out the “irony” — read hypocrisy — of YouTube accusing others of inducing copyright infringement. On his blog, Larry Lessig suggests a better word might be chutzpah. Although this letter is pretty standard for cease and desists, I thought YouTube might be able to “work things out” informally just the way I have been arguing that the music and movie industries should with YouTube. To be fair to YouTube’s attorney, though, she did leave two voice mails with Tech Crunch (that Tech Crunch had not yet listened to) before sending the letter.
Second, although there’s a laundry list of legal claims (copyright, tort, trademark) invoked in YouTube “cease and desist” letter, what this dispute really seems to be about is the ability of YouTube to adopt a blanket rule of allowing no downloading of any clip posted on YouTube. YouTube’s users don’t get the choice whether they want others to be able to download their content. Lessig has been a vocal critic of this blanket rule as hampering the great potential offered by “true sharing” of content online (the Web 2.0 kind of ethos). I agree.
Tech Crunch blog writer Michael Arrington says that the site will probably just take down the download program to “preserve [his] relationship with the company.”