Google have just announced a new set of Content ID tools which will help copyright owners protect their content on the YouTube platform. More detail is given here. These new policies and the copyright ID platform may enable Google to shrug off or negotiate a way out of the onerous suits it faces from Viacom and the UK’s Premier League. But it also seems to back away from the idea of establishing a ‘fair use’ of video clippings or quotations — a contentious issue which is at the heart of the YouTube success. The new Google approach appears to give copyright owners total control over the distribution of their video content.

Google will have to make similar proposals to the owners and custodians of literary copyrights. We can expect a comparable “highly complicated technology platform — [with] content identification tools” to be in preparation for the Google Book Search platform (they already have much of it in place already) . It would be hard to go before a judge saying that literary copyrights are going to be treated differently from video copyrights. I predict this is going to lead Google to handing a lot more power to its Publisher partners and less leeway to its Library partners in the construction of the Google Book Search ‘library’.

Some of the Google statements are quite striking and humble:

No matter how accurate the tools get, it is important to remember that no technology can tell legal from infringing material without the cooperation of the content owners themselves…..The best we can do is cooperate with copyright holders to identify videos that include their content and offer them choices about sharing that content. As copyright holders make their preferences clear to us up front, we’ll do our best to automate that choice while balancing the rights of users, other copyright holders, and our community as a whole. [See videoID-about]

It is especially tricky to see how one can automate the choices of copyright holders whilst balancing the rights of users….As John Batelle wonders its not at all clear what happens to fair use. But book publishers will certainly welcome the idea that they might be given more control ‘up front’. Its what they have been asking for all along.

Trouble is that literary copyrights can be a lot more confused and complicated even than video copyrights. All serious literary publishing requires that scope be given to ‘fair use’.