When a judge
ordered that YouTube turn over its user logs, many privacy groups were
outraged and blasted Viacom. Viacom has said in the past that it
currently had no plans to push litigation against individual users, but could
not rule out the possibility. In the face of massive criticism, Viacom
agreed to let Google anonymize the data. However, since this concession,
it has done little to advance such efforts and is now demanding that the data
be handed over, private or not.
Google/YouTube is fighting particularly hard over one part of the data -- its
employees' histories. Google says that since it failed to reach an
agreement about anonymizing the data yet, it will not hand over the viewing
histories, uploading histories, IP addresses, and usernames of its employees
unless the data has been made anonymous.
In an email Google's
spokesman wrote, "Viacom and other plaintiffs never should have
demanded private viewing data in the first place. They should have agreed
a week ago to let us anonymize it. We are willing to discuss the disclosure of
viewing activity of all the relevant parties. But the simple issue of
protecting user information should be resolved now. Our users' privacy should
not be held hostage to advance the plaintiffs' additional litigation
Viacom, parent company of MTV and Comedy Central, insists it does not want
specific user information, but also insists that the records must be turned
over -- private or not. A Viacom spokesman argued, "Viacom suggested
the initiative to anonymize the data, and we have been prepared to accept
anonymous information since day one."
According to sources, Google and Viacom were close to reaching an anonymization
deal. Allegedly Google backed out because Viacom insisted that it would
have to have Google's employee information. Viacom's lawyers argued that
if Chad Hurley, one of YouTube's co-founders uploaded copyright videos or
viewed them, they have a right to know. Hurley and other employees have
been accused by some of possibly engaging in such practices.
Google may have a tough legal fight on its hands to protect the
information. It is common in suits for personal employee information,
including e-mails, memos, and other documents to be turned over.
If Viacom manages to get its hands on the records, experts say they could
seriously help its case. If it can prove YouTube employees knew that
copyrighted material was being posted, or even posted it itself, YouTube would
likely lose its Digital Millennium Copyright Act protection and could be taken
offline whole or part. Viacom would also likely be much more likely to
win the damages it hopes for, which would be devastating to YouTube.
YouTube insists that it is an internet service provider and is thus protected
by the DMCA's Safe Harbor provision, which removes liability from ISPs for
their users’ actions. In order to qualify, the ISP must not know of
illegal acts, though, or be unable to prevent them.
The site has deployed some copyright protection measures, but insisted it has
no way to remove all copyrighted material from the site. It argues that
the only workable way is to remove content which copyright holders
request. Copyright holders like Viacom resent this approach as it costs
them time and money. Many are skeptical that YouTube couldn't employ
or develop such technologies.
Some go as far as to accuse YouTube’s employees of spiking interest for the
site by posing as users and posting copyrighted comment such as popular TV
shows during the site's early years. Such claims have had little backing
evidence, however. That could soon change if the records are released and
found to show violations.
Viacom is just one of a larger
group of copyright holders seeking damages against YouTube. YouTube
has also been targeted recently by the artist Prince, who considers it on
level with the duplicity of the Pirate Bay, a popular torrent site which he
is also suing. Many criticize Viacom's tactics saying that it should turn
to legitimized sharing measures like the popular
service Hulu, supported by NBC and other content providers.