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March 13, 2007

Viacom Sues Google for One Billion Dollars

Viacom and Google have spent the last several months negotiating a licensing deal for Viacom clips to appear on YouTube.  Viacom owns Comedy Central, MTV, VH1, Nickelodeon, and a host of other media properties that are fond of YouTube users.  Viacom turned up the heat on YouTube last month when it demanded that the video site remove about 100,000 clips of copyrighted Viacom material.

Now, various news items report that Viacom says it would not have sued had the clips it requested to be removed not appeared again and again.  This, Viacom says, shifts the burden of copyright infringement to the copyright holder and not to the "infringing" host.  Google maintains they are complying with the law.  The safe harbor provisions of the DMCA, 17 USC §512, generally allow web sites protection from the infringing activities of third parties under certain circumstances.  One of these is the lack of notice to the web site about the infringing material.  Once notice is supplied, the web site has to act "expeditiously" to remove or disable access to the content. 

There is another provision of the law, §512(c)(1)(B) which requires the site not to receive a direct financial benefit attributable to the infringing activity  when the service provider has the right and ability to control such activity.  Viacom will try to paint Google as someone who looks the other way and makes tons of money from YouTube.  Is Google another Grokster?  Probably not.  But the case is not cut and dried for either side.   

Viacom is right to complain about the massive infringement of YouTube users.  At the same time, its problems with YouTube may be better brought to the attention of Congress.  The law Congress passed set up the system that protects web sites.  Congress placed the burden on copyright holders to police their rights and not with web sites.  The idea was to protect the burgeoning Internet distribution system from these kinds of law suits.

As far as the ability to control users, that may not be possible with Google or any other site.  Whenever this situation has come up in other legal cases, it's been shown that going after one site does not prevent users from uploading the same content, but likely encourages them to disseminate the prohibited content far and wide on as many sites as possible.  Challenge the users over this activity and they will more than meet it.

The reality here is that the companies are still negotiating and this is another tactic.  This case will likely be settled.  Neither side could afford a devastating loss in the game of intellectual property chicken.

See the commentary on ZDNET and the story in Variety for additional details.

March 13, 2007 | Permalink


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I think that Viacom might make a good case that you tube is looking the other way. A competitor of YouTube has the following statement on their site that I noticed yesterday "It is expected that all users of any part of the Company system will comply with applicable copyright laws." In this day and age, it is negligent to think like that. I'm not sure what YouTube's policy is, but I am sure it is similar.

Posted by: Martin | Mar 13, 2007 12:22:21 PM

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