YouTube vs. Viacom - The gloves are off

Published March 19, 2010

The background

Viacom is suing YouTube for the copyrighted material that keeps appearing on the video sharing site. Viacom thinks YouTube should do more to stop it happening, whilst YouTube are hoping for safe harbour from the DMCA - meaning they do their best but ultimately can’t be held responsible for what users upload.

The blog post

On the official YouTube blog, a post appeared yesterday with some rather revealing information. The entire thing is worth a read but here are some snippets:

The DMCA (and common sense) recognizes that content owners, not service providers like YouTube, are in the best position to know whether a specific video is authorized to be on an Internet hosting service…

For years, Viacom continuously and secretly uploaded its content to YouTube, even while publicly complaining about its presence there. It hired no fewer than 18 different marketing agencies to upload its content to the site. It deliberately “roughed up” the videos to make them look stolen or leaked. It opened YouTube accounts using phony email addresses…

Viacom’s efforts to disguise its promotional use of YouTube worked so well that even its own employees could not keep track of everything it was posting or leaving up on the site. As a result, on countless occasions Viacom demanded the removal of clips that it had uploaded to YouTube, only to return later to sheepishly ask for their reinstatement. In fact, some of the very clips that Viacom is suing us over were actually uploaded by Viacom itself…

The legal rule that Viacom seeks would require YouTube – and every Web platform – to investigate and police all content users upload, and would subject those web sites to crushing liability if they get it wrong…

Complete and utter madness.

By now we know that clips and highlights are good for the industry. Who would even have heard of Susan Boyle if it weren’t for YouTube? Viacom know this, it seems, but are trying to pretend that they don’t… to what end?

The big bad

YouTube strongly suggest that if Viacom win this case, the “crushing liability” mentioned above would signal the end of many, many user upload businesses. Sharing content would get very, very tricky. Viacom might win a handful of money for themselves but the damages they’d do to the internet in general could never be compensated.

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