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Weil, Gotshal & Manges partner Kenneth Steinthal is at the center of the latest copyright battle to pit traditional media against emerging and established companies involved in online content distribution. He’s defending YouTube, the wildly popular video streaming Web site, against the kind of copyright infringement complaints that could wipe out the San Mateo startup. The case weighs whether the 35-employee company has a responsibility to police its millions of postings against demands of an irate copyright holder. If this skirmish is followed by bigger battles, more than 150 companies that let users post video � including AOL and CNN � could be affected. Yet Steinthal takes the case in stride. He built his career navigating messy Internet copyright disputes, and says courts have already settled the issue � a host like YouTube isn’t responsible for policing copyright violators. “The Internet safe harbor applies in this case,” Steinthal said in his trademark low-key style. “The site is responsible for removing unauthorized copies of copyrighted content, but copyright holders are responsible for notifying the sites.” Steinthal is no stranger to copyrights and courtrooms. He litigated and negotiated far trickier legal issues back when the law governing copyright enforcement on the Internet was still emerging, and has built a practice at the forefront of the convergence of content and technology. In 2001, he led the trial team for major online music services in the first and largest online music royalty arbitration proceeding before the U.S. Copyright Office. That effort determined the structure and amount of streaming online music royalties under new statutory licenses set forth in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The trial led to royalties of less than one-fifth of the amounts sought by the recording industry.
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Steinthal is managing an ongoing trial in front of the copyright office on behalf of the Digital Media Association as it negotiates with the recording industry for new statutory license rights. That kind of resume is what led YouTube to Steinthal, said Zahava Levine, the company’s general counsel. Steinthal’s 30-year career, she said, straddles both traditional media and new digital media companies. His deep connections with clients in both industries put him in a good position to negotiate what Levine calls “fair solutions to very difficult problems.” “Online media services navigating the relatively uncharted waters of copyright on the Internet want Ken on their side,” Levine said. “[He] brings to bear the historical perspective, the incisive analysis, the key relationships and the patience necessary to help online services enter reasonable deals.” His client list includes some of the major players in both industries such as Disney, ESPN, MTV Networks, AOL, Microsoft, RealNetworks and Yahoo. THE YOUTUBE BATTLEFRONT YouTube was sued by a journalist who claims his video of the 1992 Los Angeles riots has been viewed by YouTube users without his permission more than 1,000 times. As many media pundits put it, the current dispute could determine who is ultimately responsible for policing copyright violations online and could imperil the existence of tiny companies like YouTube that have little or no resources to monitor the more than 50,000 video clips its users upload to its site every day. “The lawsuit affects anyone that is involved with user-generated content and doesn’t want to take on the burden of censoring content when you’re basically a funnel for distribution,” Steinthal said. And, observers say, it won’t be long until the music industry, the most litigious group in the realm of Internet piracy, and television networks and movie studios join in and sue YouTube and others as amateur videos featuring commercial songs, movie clips and snippets of popular TV programs flood the Web. The prospect of another all-out copyright war between Internet companies and content owners is enough to unnerve any company in the video-sharing space. But for a tiny startup like YouTube � founded a little over a year ago by two former executives at eBay Inc.’s PayPal unit � the grim chance of becoming another Napster is a very real possibility. Steinthal hopes to build the same kind of relationships with companies in the digital media space. “New media companies often want to have relationships with older and more mature media companies,” Steinthal said. “What we bring to the table is the decades of experience we’ve accumulated over the years and the knowledge and contacts we have developed.”

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