Universal sues MySpace on copyright

lawsuitUniversal Music, the world’s largest record company, on Friday launched the media industry’s first legal challenge against MySpace, the hugely popular social networking site owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.

Universal, owned by French media giant Vivendi, said it was suing MySpace for the copyright infringement of the music and music videos of its artists, citing specifically the easy availability of material from rap artist Jay-Z’s as yet unreleased album “Kingdom Come”.

My understanding of this case is that Universal pretty much doesn’t have a leg to stand on. There is a principle in law for Internet Service Providers, which is called Safe Harbour in the US, and is known as Blind Conduit elsewhere.

Under law, MySpace is pretty unarguably an ISP — and therefore a blind conduit. It lets its users post their own material, and if notified about copyright infringement, requires that the material be taken down. It’s in the Terms and Conditions signed by each of its users.

Not only that, but it’s interesting to note that Universal are also happy to spend large amounts in advertising on the site. It’s one thing to be outraged at theft, but when you’re primarily a marketing firm suing one of your biggest suppliers of advertising space is either inherently stupid or purely tactical.

So — Universal is just rattling the cage — and it’s acting alone. This is not the music business against the internet. This is part of an ongoing negotiation between the two media giants. Universal were able to broker a deal with Microsoft for the Zune player, and they’re having talks with YouTube (of course) — but MySpace are playing hard ball, and Universal are throwing a tantrum.