Last week, Fox quietly served YouTube and LiveDigital with subpoenas aimed at uncovering the identity of a user who uploaded episodes of "24" and "The Simpsons" to the video-sharing sites. The "24" clips appeared on YouTube before their broadcast date, according to The Hollywood Reporter. News of the subpoenas was first reported Wednesday by GoogleWatch.
Fox's move seems unusual because, so far, the legal action stemming from clips on video-sharing sites has been centered on the sites themselves -- at least as far as is known. Although Paramount Pictures subpoenaed YouTube to learn the identity of a user last May, that appears to have been the exception rather than the rule in these cases. Consider, when Universal Music Group last year sued MySpace, Bolt Media and Grouper Networks, the company gave no indication that it was about to start hauling the people who had posted the videos into court.
In contrast, for years now, the record industry has targeted individuals who download music tracks, filing an endless parade of lawsuits against a seemingly random assortment of alleged downloaders. Some of the defendants -- maybe most -- have coughed up a few thousand dollars, while a handful of others have successfully fought the charges. Meantime, despite RIAA's protests that it's only protecting musicians, the lawsuits have created much bad will among consumers.
While the current round of subpoenas appear aimed at uncovering the identity of a person -- perhaps an employee -- with more access to the material than average consumers, it's only a matter of time until the studios file suits against more individual uploaders.