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1/26/2007
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Alexander Wolfe
Alexander Wolfe
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YouTube Simpsons Subpoena Spotlights Copyright Insanity

No, this isn't another legal tussle or media mess involving O.J. or Judith Regan. It's a Web copyright battle touched off by that overrated weekly animated series starring Homer and Marge. And, as with most copyright disputes, the online data path leads directly to YouTube.

No, this isn't another legal tussle or media mess involving O.J. or Judith Regan. It's a Web copyright battle touched off by that overrated weekly animated series starring Homer and Marge. And, as with most copyright disputes, the online data path leads directly to YouTube.It seems that Fox Corp., which owns The Simpsons (the series, not O.J., though Fox was also involved in the recent If I Did It fiasco), has subpoenaed YouTube in an effort to find out who uploaded clips from The Simpsons as well as from 24.

According to Reuters, Fox wants YouTube to hand over the name of the subscriber so that it can "stop the infringement."

Hey, haven't we been here before? The RIAA, which is the industry association representing the seriously sagging music business, has spent the past two years suing teenagers and the occasional grandmother for the nefarious offense of downloading music without paying for it.

I don't mean to make light of illegal downloads, because, let's face it, it is theft. Sheryl Crow, an artist whose work I admire -- newbies are advised to check out her eponymous second album as well as last year's WildFlower, an underated homage to Elton John -- has been vocal in her opposition to teens filling their iPods from peer-to-peer networks. And she should know, because she's worth many tens of millions of dollars.

The point is, while Fox and friends like the RIAA are correct, they're also wrong. That is, the copyright horse already has left the barn. The best way for Fox to protect its intellectual property should be to let it surge freely throughout the Web, where, in all likelihood, people who see clips of The Simpsons and of 24 will want to check out the actual shows for themselves. On Fox.

Others also have suggested that the Foxes of the world post up to YouTube themselves and attach ads to the clips, because their real business is getting people to watch their advertisers' ads, and this tactic will bring in many millions of additional eyeballs.

In any case, resistance is rather futile at this point: A quick check of YouTube this morning indicates more than 20,000 Simpsons-related clips. Much better to come up with a strategy that recognizes reality and finds a way to make lemons out of YouTube lemonade.

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