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YouTube wins its copyright case with Viacom.

YouTube wins its copyright case with Viacom. (photo)

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When two corporations engage in legal battle, like oversized Transformers locked in mortal combat, it can be difficult to know who to root for. In the case of Viacom vs. YouTube, however, the moral advantage lay (just barely) with the Google-owned video giant, which had been sued by Viacom for $1 billion in copyright infringement (55% of what Google paid for YouTube to begin with, no less).

Viacom insisted YouTube had an obligation to immediately remove all copyrighted clips from its website; YouTube said they only had an obligation to pull videos identified by their copyright holders. The judge sided with YouTube; since they pulled all videos as soon as they were identified, they’re off the hook.

Here’s why this is good news. First, this does seem like some kind of karmic lesson. For a long time Viacom’s been secretly uploading clips through 18 different marketing agencies, often deliberately making the videos look messy to convey the impression of piracy:

Viacom’s efforts to disguise its promotional use of YouTube worked so well that even its own employees could not keep track of everything it was posting or leaving up on the site. As a result, on countless occasions Viacom demanded the removal of clips that it had uploaded to YouTube, only to return later to sheepishly ask for their reinstatement. In fact, some of the very clips that Viacom is suing us over were actually uploaded by Viacom itself.

Corporations can rarely get everyone on the same page, of course, but that’s going a little far. Either way, it wasn’t a factor in the judge’s summary decision in favor of YouTube — it was merely that their responsibility ended in removing the offending videos when identified. As anyone who’s ever tried to find, say, vintage MTV clips on YouTube knows, Viacom has been more vigilant than most in obsessively monitoring what’s on the website.

(First prize for YouTube watchfulness has to go to Universal, whose DVDs must have some killer identifying technology in them — most surviving clips are of people filming movies off their TVs. Surprisingly indifferent is Disney, who appear to have no problem with many of their movies being uploaded in full.)

06252010_beavis.jpgInternet pirates can be an outspoken/obnoxious group, full of rhetoric about freedom of speech, creativity and why prices are too high and their backs are against the wall — a difficult position to take when you’ve got a hard drive full of movies and a high-speed connection to match, but never mind.

YouTube clips, though, are the least of a corporation’s problems. If you want to watch a major corporate film from the last fifteen years or so, you probably don’t even need to torrent. Just run a keyword search, and pretty soon you’re streaming a low-grade copy of a film hosted — most likely — by a website based in Japan or China or by a service like MegaVideo, where users obsessively re-up movies as soon as they’re pulled.

Compared to that, YouTube isn’t that big of a factor. The reality is that this corporate whack-a-mole mentality is misdirected. Don’t worry about clips — most people are so intent on hunting down their favorite moments rather than watching a whole film that you might as well run with it. The battle to protect material will be fought film by film until (hopefully) a legal solution is found that people will actually pay for. It’ll be a case of pulling the movies one at a time, just as it is now.

I do wish, in any case, Viacom would knock it off a bit, if only because of weird situations like the “Beavis and Butt-Head” music videos — too expensive to license again for the DVDs, too good to be confined to VHS bootleg purgatory. Four months ago, a cache of B&B videos not available on DVD suddenly popped up on YouTube, and now I’m suddenly wondering if they’re one of the group of videos uploaded surreptitiously by someone at Viacom. Really, I’ll take any excuse to post this:

[Photos: “Anatomy of a Murder,” Columbia, 1959; “Beavis and Butt-Head,” MTV, 1993-97]

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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