YouTube is a versatile Internet video service provided by tech giant Google that people can use for viewing almost any kind of content; from entertainment, to instructional, or to upload their own video content. The purpose of the service is to allow users to share their content with an ever widening audience. The popularity of the service has also proven to be an important revenue stream for Google through advertising. Invariably, YouTube users must endure these advertisements in the form of either a video trailer that precedes the desired content or text banner pop-ups with the only question being the length of time the advertisement stays on screen.
Although most Internet content, including that which is provided by YouTube is free of charge, these advertisement pop-ups are unsolicited and unwanted. Industry watchdogs are finding that the occurrence now being experienced by users is striking a familiar nerve reminding them of a time when it was nearly impossible to visit any website without having to waste time closing these unwanted, and sometimes even pornographic, pop-up ads obstructing content the viewer desired to see. Experts determined the phenomenon to be a combination of weak security on the user’s computer as well as aggressive technical marketing on the part of the advertiser.
One of the first attempts to litigate the pop-up problem was initiated in the state of Utah but existing anti-spam laws at the time were specific to E-mail and were found to be inadequate to address the issue of invasive pop-up advertising. This was found to be due to the fact that the Internet was still very much in its fledgling stage and the legal system proved to be unprepared to address problems that it had never before encountered. On May 5, 2000, the world was subjected to the infamous “I Love You” virus, which was a malicious code allegedly created by a 23 year old former college student, Onel A. de Guzman. Investigation by multi-national authorities disclosed the virus was launched from his apartment in the Philippines. Estimates of the damage caused to companies worldwide were reported to be as high as $10 billion dollars. Reports cited the reason all charges against de Guzman were eventually dropped was because there were simply no laws yet enacted at the time that specifically criminalized the activity perpetrated by de Guzman. Governments acted in response to legal shortcomings identified by the release of the I Love You virus and passed appropriate laws. In 2005, when unsolicited pop-up advertisements on computers across the globe became an issue there were no laws in the U.S. criminalizing the use of pop-up advertising. However, companies like Microsoft, Google, Mozilla, Opera and Apple listened to consumers’ complaints and fortified their Internet browsers with pop-up blockers. Other software retailers developed their own anti-pop-up products and made them available to consumers. Nonetheless, the pop-ups battle continues.
The reputed creator of pop-up advertising, Brian Shuster of Montreal, Canada, who is also well-known in the Internet pornography industry, filed for a patent for this technology in 1998 which was finally awarded in 2013. Now that Shuster is armed with this patent, he is on record as staying firm in his intention to demand licensing fees from websites that use pop-ups, which obviously would include sites like Google’s YouTube.
By Mark Politi