Francis Vierboom's Blog

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Stop punching yourself

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Viacom is a major media producer in the US, and has launched a major copyright lawsuit against YouTube and its owner, Google.

However, it turns out that Viacom is kind of attempting the legal equivalent of grabbing Google by the arm and screaming “oh look you’re hitting yourself in the face hahaha”. According to allegations in Google’s initial filing in the case, Viacom employees and subcontractors have been uploading clips to YouTube for ages. From the YouTube blog:

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. It even sent employees to Kinko’s to upload clips from computers that couldn’t be traced to Viacom. And in an effort to promote its own shows, as a matter of company policy Viacom routinely left up clips from shows that had been uploaded to YouTube by ordinary users. Executives as high up as the president of Comedy Central and the head of MTV Networks felt “very strongly” that clips from shows like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report should remain on YouTube.

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.

Given Viacom’s own actions, there is no way YouTube could ever have known which Viacom content was and was not authorized to be on the site. But Viacom thinks YouTube should somehow have figured it out. 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.

Of course it’s behaviour that would completely make sense from a commercial standpoint. The Daily Show is popular all over the world and has just started running here on ABC2. Plenty of locals here are already excited about it because clips are frequently (legally) embedded on popular news and blogs. (Not to mention that it is a good show.)

Really, these types of lawsuits just seem like a way for the company’s legal department to make itself look worthwhile. And, of course, when in-house counsel presents a potential lawsuit opportunity to an executive with a simple legal explanation and a payout in billions, it’s always going to seem tempting. But it’s very shortsighted. If Google can actually prove these allegations, Viacom might decide to settle this one quickly rather than get laughed out of court.

Written by Francis

March 19, 2010 at 11:53 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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