Viacom is suing YouTube for $1 billion dollars for copyright infringement. This lawsuit demonstrates stupidity on both sides.
YouTube is not funneling any of the revenue it makes back to the people posting videos or the copyright holders. Many other video sites already have functioning payment plans. Scott Kirsner has put together a list available here. It's not like YouTube has to invent things from scratch. They can easily see what's available in the marketplace and craft a plan based on what others have done.
Viacom is trying to hold back the future. The Hollywood studios tried to strangle TV and home video in the cradle. Not only did they fail, they soon turned around and embraced both of them as major revenue streams.
And Viacom is hurting itself. With no Viacom content on YouTube, people watching online video will be satisfied to watch somebody else's content. What kind of business model withholds a product from customers and encourages them to move to the competition?
I support the idea of copyright. I believe that a creator (or the company that finances a creator) has the right to profit from work. No argument there. However, I see copyright in different terms than it currently exists.
In a digital world, you cannot control copying. Why devote time and money to fighting it? Better to acknowledge that copying will occur and figure out a system where every time content is copied or viewed, the copyright holder makes money. That way, rather than fight copying you can encourage it and profit from it at the same time.
The only way to protect a secret is to not tell anyone. Once one other person knows it, you've lost control of the content. You cannot guarantee that the other person won't spread the information around. That's how it is now with digital copying. Once you've made your work available to the public, you cannot stop it from spreading around. You can copy a file with as little effort as whispering to a friend. When the cost to reproduce something is that low, there's no effective barrier to prevent it.
It's not going to be easy to set up a compensation system and I suspect that initially there's going to be disappointment over the amount of money that digital copying generates. Rather than these two giant companies wasting resources fighting over an antiquated law, they should be lobbying the government to adapt the copyright law to unlimited copying for the digital age.
Just like the studios eventually made peace with TV and the VCR, they're going to make peace with online video. Even a moron can see that. Why not skip the lawsuits and just get on with it?