Copyright & the collaborative Internet

· by Steve · Read in about 3 min · (428 Words)

I’ve been thinking a bit about copyright issues lately, and how things will develop from here what with bandwidth spiralling ever higher and more and more collaboration / self-publishing websites like YouTube becoming popular. We had a fairly threatening email recently from a company (who shall remain nameless) who was understandably upset that one of our forum users had posted a modified version of a shader from their product in our forums, and their license agreement prohibited that. Our moderating team hadn’t spotted it - it wasn’t entirely obvious that this was the case unless you’d actually seen the original shader in question, and the post implied (but didn’t explicitly claim) that the shader was the posters own and it was just a fragment so it was missing any copyright headers etc. The thread had actually gotten buried quite quickly anyway since it wasn’t very active so no-one realised what had happened.

Of course as soon as we were notified we removed the post and slapped the users wrist, but there were moments there when I was concerned the company might try to make something more of it, since the email implied that we had ‘assisted’ in the copyright infringment, which may have caused ‘irreparable and significant damage’ to said company. Common sense says this is nonsense of course, the fault was entirely with the poster, and we responded to correct their error as soon as we were alerted - inherently we cannot control our users actions 100% of the time. But there are scare stories of copyright owners suing intermediaries like Google for copyright infringment of their users. Our moderators do their best of course, but we’re all volunteers and we’re not omnipotent. Plus, these things are not always very obvious, especially when fragments are posted. If someone chose to sue us over the behaviour of a user, it would jeapoardise the entire existence of the forums since we couldn’t possibly guarantee it would never happen again, despite all our efforts. That’s a bit of a worry, but I’m hoping the matter is closed.

Of course, YouTube etc are still rife with copyrighted material so I guess we’re just small fry here. They seem to do nothing to remove it, probably because it’s just as impractical to watch everyone - and their scale is much larger. Quite what will happen with this I don’t know - how on earth can anyone possibly manage user-driven content where the posters outnumber staff by many orders of magnitude? But, at least I can link classic stuff like this and this.