Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Update on Google and Viacom

In October, 2006, Google announced its purchase of YouTube.

Even before the deal was struck, media companies had been complaining that the unauthorized download of music, movies and other copyrighted content on YouTube was costing them billions. Four months after the purchase, in February, 2007, Disney, GE, News Corp, Viacom and Time Warner publicly accused Google of benefiting from the sale of pirated movies and of offering support to YouTube.

Six weeks after negotiations with Google broke down, Viacom sued both YouTube and Google in New York's U.S. District Court for more than $1 billion dollars. According to the Associated press, "Viacom claims that YouTube has displayed nearly 160,000 unauthorized video clips from its cable networks, which also include Comedy Central, VH1 and Nickelodeon."

Here we are sixteen months later, and the New York Times provided an update on the lawsuit. In an ironic twist, the day before the Fourth of July, a federal judge ordered Google "to turn over to Viacom its records of which users watched which videos on YouTube, the Web’s largest video site by far."
The order raised concerns among YouTube users and privacy advocates that the video viewing habits of tens of millions of people could be exposed.
Both Viacom and Google insist they will take steps to protect the users' privacy.

But the judge's order stirs the concern of privacy advocates who are already unhappy about the "unprecedented amounts of private information" being gathered and stored by Google and other search engines.
The amount of data covered by the order is staggering, as it includes every video watched on YouTube since its founding in 2005. In April alone, 82 million people in the United States watched 4.1 billion clips there, according to comScore. Some experts say virtually every Internet user has visited YouTube.
The Times says that Viacom wants the user information in order to determine how much of YouTube's popularity was based on the pirated clips illegally posted to the site.
Judge [Louis] Stanton agreed that the information could help Viacom make its case. “A markedly higher proportion of infringing-video watching may bear on plaintiff’s vicarious liability claim, and defendants’ substantial noninfringing use defense,” he wrote.

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