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For those who grew up in the Napster era, the music industry’s emphatic protection of its copyrights in music content is very familiar territory. However, the aggressive shutdown of music download websites has plagued the music industry as a bad public relations move for many years. Despite a shift to legalized digital downloading, the music industry continues to suffer lagging sales.
Today, one must wonder whether other media conglomerates have learned from the mistakes of the music industry—or is history simply poised to repeat itself? On May 19, 2008, NBC, FOX, CBS, and Allbritton Communications served a cease-and-desist letter to the blogger-friendly website, redlasso.com. (The C&D letter may be read here.) For those who are not familiar with Redlasso, the website allows users to search for media content, turn the content into clips that cannot exceed ten minutes, and share these clips by posting to a blog or website. Some readers may be experiencing déjà vu, since media studios took a similar shot at YouTube in early 2007. YouTube now removes unauthorized content at the owner’s request.
Redlasso has been given until May 29, 2008 to respond to the C&D letter, at which time they will probably assert a fair use defense. The fair use defense was rejected in the music industry cases, but the situation here proves to be a little different. Napster allowed consumers to download full, portable versions of music songs. However, Redlasso allows for a maximum clip length of ten minutes (shorter than most all television programs), and is designed only for posting to websites or blogs, which may be considered a form of mixed news and entertainment. Despite the differences between music downloading and television content, it is unlikely that a court would be sympathetic to the fair use defense.
Even if Redlasso would not prevail in its legal arguments, might it be wise for television studios to enter into licensing agreements for the clips? Redlasso recently released the following statement:
“We believe that curtailing distribution through the Redlasso platform only exacerbates a flawed distribution model. We hope to develop mutually beneficially partnerships with the world’s major media companies.”
This partnership would be designed to split advertising revenue with owners of the content and bloggers that use the Redlasso service. In today’s technological world, advertisers constantly face new challenges as consumers have an increasingly greater level of control over how they receive content. Redlasso has already developed an infrastructure for a service that consumers clearly want, boasting visits from 24 million unique visitors in April alone. Therefore, television studios should partner with Redlasso, instead of shutting down a site which will surely be replaced in a few short months (think of Napster replaced by Grokster replaced by Limewire, etc.). Studios should not see this service as replacing their development of broadband websites that allow consumers to view missed programs on the web, but rather should utilize this as a supplement to their traditional full programming media.
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