Google blasts Viacom stating, "Our users' privacy should not be held hostage" accusing Viacom of bullyism

Many fear that Viacom's lengthy legal campaign against Google subsidiary YouTube is just a sign of things to come.  Viacom's aggressive stance as it pursues $1B USD in litigation against YouTube for allegedly sharing copyrighted video material strikes many as reminiscent of the Recording Industry of Artists of America's (RIAA) early tactics. 

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 interests."

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.

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