Viacom v. Google, YouTube | Court documents released

YouTube Generation graffiti on a cement wall.

YouTube (owned by Google) is being sued by Viacom for alleged copyright infringement. Image from Flickr.

This morning, a New York Federal Court judge released hundreds of thousands of pages (PDF) of documents related to the three-year-old Viacom v. YouTube lawsuit. Viacom is the owner of a huge variety of media outlets, including Paramount Pictures, Comedy Central, MTV and BET. Viacom is suing Google – specifically, Google’s YouTube property – over alleged copyright infringements. At the basis of this lawsuit is the 1996 Digital Millennium Copyright Act. There have been other cases testing the DMCA, but the Viacom vs. YouTube/Google case is the largest, asking for more than $1 billion worth of fast cash for Viacom.

The Viacom allegations against YouTube

Filed on March 13, 2007, the Viacom lawsuit against Google and YouTube alleged copyright infringement. In the released documents, Viacom claims that YouTube engaged in “massive intentional copyright infringement” by making available over 100,000 “unauthorized” clips of Viacom-owned materials and taking no actions to remove or block copyrighted information from YouTube.

Google’s defense of YouTube

Google has defended YouTube against Viacom’s allegations in several ways. First, Google claims that Viacom has taken many of the YouTube e-mails included in the court documents out of context. As reported by CNet, Viacom’s complaint omitted the word “stop” from an e-mail a YouTube founder sent saying “…please stop putting stolen videos on the site.” Google also provides e-mails from 2005 in which YouTube’s founders outline that “video must be about you, must be appropriate for all audiences, cannot contain contact information, no copyrighted material.”

In the defense of YouTube against Viacom, YouTube has also alleged that Viacom secretly uploaded thousands of hours of video content at the same time they were complaining about that content’s presence on YouTube.

Viacom retaliation for YouTube purchase attempt?

CNBC has reported that Viacom’s lawsuit may be about more than just copyright protection. YouTube and Google claim that Viacom had tried to purchase YouTube before Google did, and then offered to partner with Google to purchase YouTube – using cash advance loans from both Viacom and Google to invest in YouTube. When both of these efforts failed, YouTube alleges, Viacom filed the lawsuit in retaliation.

YouTube protected by Digital Millennium Copyright Act?

The lawsuit between Viacom and Google/YouTube is based on the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. This law was passed in 1998 and conforms to treaties the United States made with the World Intellectual Property Organization. In short, the act protects service providers (such as YouTube) from copyright infringement lawsuits if they remove material when a copyright claim is made by the media owners. Viacom is claiming that while YouTube did remove copyrighted material when asked, YouTube did not take appropriate actions to prevent the copyrighted material from ever being posted.

The implications of Viacom v. YouTube

In the end, no matter how many allegations Google and Viacom make against one another, the real matter at hand is if YouTube violated the DMCA. While YouTube’s terms of service have always included a prohibition against copyrighted content, the judge must rule if YouTube took actions that violated Viacom’s copyright. If YouTube is found guilty, it could have wide-ranging implications for the availability of commercially copyrighted content on the web.

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