Copyright Warnings Disputed

By Ville Heiskanen and Molly Peterson
Bloomberg News
Thursday, August 2, 2007

Google, Microsoft and other computer-industry companies contested what they say are excessive copyright-violation warnings by media providers, including film studios, sports leagues and publishers.

The Computer and Communications Industry Association said yesterday that it filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, asking the agency to tell copyright holders to stop issuing misleading warnings with movies, games and books.

The conflict highlights differing interpretations of how copyrighted works can be used without an owner's permission. Web sites such as Google's YouTube have made it easier for consumers to share such material, prompting filmmakers, publishers and sports leagues to step up efforts to protect their property.

"Every one of us has seen or heard that copyright warning at the beginning of a sports game, DVD or book," Ed Black, chief executive of the association, said in a statement. "These corporations use these warnings not to educate their consumers, but to intimidate them."

Content owners have resorted to unfair and deceptive practices to guard their copyrights, the association said. Their warnings misrepresent consumers' rights and in some cases threaten criminal and civil penalties against people acting within the law, according to the association.

"You're not a felon for showing a movie in a classroom," Black said yesterday at a news conference in the District. "You do not need written permission from the commissioner of baseball to describe Barry Bonds's last home run."

The complaint was filed against Major League Baseball, the National Football League, NBC Universal, DreamWorks, Harcourt and Penguin Group.

FTC spokesman Frank Dorman declined to comment on the specifics of the complaint.

NBC Universal, Harcourt, Viacom, Major League Baseball, the NFL, and Pearson's Penguin books unit declined to comment or did not return calls seeking comment.

The association is "faulting copyright owners who take the time and effort to caution users on the fact that the works are copyrighted," Patrick Ross, head of lobby group Copyright Alliance, said in a statement yesterday. The alliance, which represents sports leagues and studios, has said that better education is needed on copyright owners' rights and use of protected works.

The complaint is a "smokescreen" by Google, which faces copyright-infringement lawsuits, said lawyer Louis M. Solomon of Proskauer Rose in New York. He represents England's Football Association and others that are suing Google and YouTube, claiming the site engages in copyright infringement.

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