Viacom, Universal Have Viral Cooties (Updated)

If you go whoring it up for the promotional juice you get from encouraging the participatory media, don’t go slapping the very people who participated in your marketing orgy with cease and desist nastygrams. The softest word to describe that kind of behavior is hypocritical. But it’s just what Viacom and Universal are accused of in two recent but separate cases on two continents.

The Battle for TruthStephen Colbert, who gets his paychecks from Viacom, encouraged his viewers to turn him into a viral video star. The response was, to say the least, enthusiastic. One team thought outside the box, and instead of using the green screen footage Colbert suggested, created a hilarious Second Life machinima recreation of a dream Colbert had described featuring a mythic battle between Colbert and Nancy Pelosi.

GigaGamez contributor Wagner James Au had the original story about the hilarious clip last October for New World Notes. He updated the piece yesterday when a tipster emailed to say the clip has now been pulled from YouTube at the request of Viacom’s lawyers, presumably for the short snippet of actual show footage used to set up the joke. Thankfully, the video is still available at Second Life on their Community Videos page.

That would be an interesting story by itself, but on the same day the P2P blog wrote a story about a German blogger, Christoph Boecken, who in trying to help other players in a Universal Music sponsored Alternate Reality Game (ARG) promoting a new Nine Inch Nails record, posted a new track from the album that had an audio clue for the game. He even took the precaution of posting it in a flash player rather than raw MP3 format. After getting a note from Universal’s German counsel, he took down the clip and paid a fine. But then incensed fellow bloggers made a stink and Universal repayed him for the fine and gave him backstage passes to a Nine Inch Nails show.

It’s highly likely that these are just cases of corporate miscommunication, with legal representatives like emboldened attack dogs not heeding the commands of their paymasters (and happy to bill hours for each takedown request issued, presumably). But it can’t be good publicity for either company to seem so two-faced, on the one hand basically tapping fans for free promotional work, on the other punishing fans for posting any copyright material anywhere, ever.

Update: In a similar but unrelated case, the Electronic Frontier Foundation is representing MoveOn and BraveNewFilms after their own Colbert Report parody was pulled from YouTube following a DMCA takedown request from Viacom. Though this wasn’t in response to an audience call to action, it’s a similar example of how the simplistic DMCA takedown procedure is often at odds with clear fair use.


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