What you don't know as a media company can be good for you -- or at least get you out of trouble.
YouTube’s latest legal victory over Viacom, in the latter's long-term lawsuit (started in 2007) over the former's alleged copy infringement, reflects this idea.
Viacom's $1 billion lawsuit received a big blow Thursday. "The burden of showing that YouTube knew or was aware of the specific infringements of the works in suit cannot be shifted to YouTube to disprove," U.S District Judge Louis Stanton said in his ruling from New York.
In 2010, Stanton had said pretty much the same -- that YouTube wasn't breaking the law as long as it was unaware (my emphasis) of video's copyright law. Content from MTV or Comedy Central on my website? How did it get there?
Aereo, the digital over-the-top company, knows better and is betting that its service -- based on an individual Internet antennas -- is perfectly legal. That it is not "stealing" anyone's content. Aeroeo is seemingly aware of stuff -- right or wrong.
Still, how many times do big companies say, "I'm sorry. I didn't know that was wrong. I promise to do better."
This isn't the sentiment of YouTube. "This is a win not just for YouTube, but for the billions of people worldwide who depend on the web to freely exchange ideas and information," said a statement from its legal counsel. "Today’s decision recognizes YouTube as a thriving and vibrant forum for all these users, creators and consumers alike. Today is an important day for the Internet."
Is something missing? The judge used the word "unaware."
Think back to July 2011 when Netflix planned a massive change in the way it does it business: It was going to separate its DVD rental service from its growing video streaming service and raise prices. Nice.
After some massive fallout, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings wrote in his blog that he had blown it and apologized, saying in effect that he hadn’t been listening to Netflix’s customers. Analysts believed that as a result, Netflix would experience a massive fall. The company did lose some ground. But today? Perhaps not completely out of the woods, it's doing pretty well.
Of course, the YouTube-Viacom case didn't affect consumers directly in the short-term. Aereo? Who wouldn't want cheaper access to TV networks?
So the answer might not always be an apology. But a conversation between the right parties might be okay instead.