You knew it was bound to happen, right? I think Youtube is the greatest thing since the invention of television. It allows anyone, even a homely wretch like me, to become an instant worldwide video star. All you need is a camera, a computer, and an internet connection.
However, while most of the content uploaded to Youtube is original (including over 60 of my own videos), it is also very easy to find copyrighted material up there. In fact, this is one of the cooler aspects of the site. Did you miss the Saturday Night Live skit everyone was talking about at the water cooler Monday morning? No sweat. A quick Youtube search and you're up-to-date. Wish you could see that obscure '70s Japanese cartoon that's been off the air since you were a kid? Chances are it's up there.
It's very difficult for Google to prevent this. They actually did try to do this on their original Google Video site. Every uploaded video was screened by a Google employee before it went live. This led to a several day delay between the posting of a video and its appearance on the site. Which is why I and the vast majority of online video posters left Google Video for Youtube.
We're finally getting to "TV on Demand", which is where I've been saying TV needs to go if it is to evolve and survive. But Viacom doesn't like this, so now it's suing Google. Fine. I see their point. Sort of. Personally, I don't think this is the same as the Napster debacle. First of all, most of the "copyrighted" material being uploaded to Youtube is being recorded off of broadcast TV, which, as I recall, is FREE. It's more akin to taping your favorite songs off the radio and sharing the low quality recordings with friends than ripping songs directly off of CD's and distributing them. Second, there is still a ten minute limit to length of clips that can be uploaded, so you couldn't upload a whole TV show or a movie, just short clips.
If the networks were smart, they'd embrace Youtube as free advertising, which is all that it really is. If they were even smarter, they'd figure out a way to get their broadcast sponsors to pay them for ads on their own official Youtube pages, and upload very high-quality clips themselves, eliminating the need for piracy and still making money.
Either way, it should be interesting to see how this unfolds.