Google vs Viacom : Does YouTube Infringe on Copyright?

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It has been announced that internet search giant Google has been ordered by a US court to turn over data on users of its social video site YouTube. The ruling comes as part of Google’s legal battle with Viacom, over allegations that the search giant knowing permitted content to be uploaded across the site that infringed on copyright laws.

The data that will be handed across to Viacom will contain the log in ID’s of users, IP addresses and details of any video clips ever watched.

Digital rights group the Electronic Frontier Foundation called the ruling a “set-back to privacy rights”, whilst others speculated that the ruling was potentially unlawful being that the data contained personally identifiable data.

The Case Details
The billion dollar legal case between Viacom and Google is the biggest case of its kind in history, but is only the latest instance of a company targeting user generated content sites, stating that they are responsible for the content hosted on the site, and subsequent infringement of copyright laws.

Google had consistently denied the allegations that YouTube infringes copyright, saying that it takes down protected videos from the site when asked by content owners, as required by United States law.

Recently EMI also filed a suit against VideoEgg stating similar copyright infringement practices, making the case of Google vs Viacom a landmark ruling, and one that could well have a bearing on how similar disputes are settled in the future.

As part of the legal action Viacom brought against Google, it requested much more than the awarded data on YouTube account holders. For that reason the provision of user data, estimated to total over 12 terabytes, is very much a glass half full/ half empty scenario, with Google scoring a key legal victory keeping all of its trade secrets in tact and Viacom being awarded access to user data.

From a business perspective Google has certainly come out ahead, with Viacom denied access to proprietary code that controls the search facility of both YouTube and Viacom had requested access to the code stating it was the only way to truly see if and how Google encourages copyright infringement.

The court denied Viacom’s request for source code stating that the “program’s source code is the product of approximately 50,000 man hours of engineering time and millions of dollars of research and development costs, and maintaining its confidentiality is essential to prevent others from creating competing programs without any equivalent investment”

On the flip side users are the clear losers, with personally identifiable data being handed across to Viacom. This could however have been much worse with access being denied to private video content of YouTube users. This would have entitled Viacom access to videos that can only be viewed by authorised users, video uploaded for personal use, however it was deemed this would be a privacy violation under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act.

The courts did however award Viacom user data whilst forcing them to respect it, threatening to hold them in contempt of court if it uses that data for anything other than specifically proving the prevalence of piracy on YouTube.

As part of the legal action Viacom were also denied their request for Google to turn over databases with information about each video available on YouTube, including titles, keywords, comments and whether videos had been flagged or not. With this data Viacom wanted to demonstrate that defendants have an ability to control infringements, however their request was denied.

Viacom was also denied Google’s advertising and video content schemas with Google arguing their confidentiality. Viacom had intended to demonstrate how revenues were directly related to infringing content.

On reflection, it therefore seems that Google did in fact score a victory over Viacom, keeping propriety code and advertising schemas in tact, in a move that would certainly have dented their competitive edge. Users too can rest in the knowledge that data on private videos, deleted videos and clip data of each video uploaded to YouTube will remain confidential, and the user data that is to be handed over is bound by legal conditions.

After the ruling Google made a statement saying Viacom was “threatening the way millions of people legitimately exchange information, news, entertainment and political and artistic expression.”


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