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This article was published on March 18, 2010

The YouTube Viacom Lawsuit Explained

The YouTube Viacom Lawsuit Explained
Alex Wilhelm
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Alex Wilhelm

Alex Wilhelm is a San Francisco-based writer. You can find Alex on Twitter, and on Facebook. You can reach Alex via email at [email protected] Alex Wilhelm is a San Francisco-based writer. You can find Alex on Twitter, and on Facebook. You can reach Alex via email at [email protected]

From the legal team (the writing staff) here at TNW US, we present you with the YouTube v. Viacom lawsuit in condensed form. You can read the Viacom brief here, and YouTube here. You can read the Google blog post on the matter here, it’s a classic.

The lawsuit is over three years old at the moment, but this is our first deep look into the legal briefs that were filed. They are filled with zingers and comedy.

Our synthesis is from a perspective of common sense, and that Viacom is probably wrong. Make of it what you will. Also, please do not sue us.

Viacom, Round 1:

Google and YouTube are liable under the legal precedent set by MGM Studios v. Grokster for copyright infringement. What is more, Google knew before it bought YouTube that the website was based on pirated content. Even more, Google had techniques (simple, cheap ones) at its disposable to protect copyrights, and chose not to use them.

Google and YouTube are liable under vicarious infringement. This is a very fancy way of saying YouTube has ads next to videos that include copyrighted material. [TNW: Never mind that YouTube loses more money than Congress.]

Google and YouTube were not, and are not, passive conduits of copyrighted content. They do not just sit there while people abuse our content; they slice it, dice it, and move it around. Because they do this on their website, they are just as guilty as the original uploader.

Google and YouTube knew about the infringement, made money off of it, and took part in it. Therefore, they owe us a truckload of money. Google has said money in the bank, and will save our year from being dismal financially.

We rest our case, your honor.

YouTube, Round 2:

Viacom is being ridiculous. They state that our service is abusive, which is a fair claim to make and one that we will fight against. However, their own actions “defeat” their point. Viacom has for years uploaded their own content to YouTube.

In fact, they do so secretly. So secretly, they have asked us to remove videos that they have in fact uploaded. Confusing. Also, they leave many videos online that they could remove with a “click of a button.” If YouTube is so abusive, why do they continue to use it?

Also, how can we tell which parts of your content you wanted on the site, and which you didn’t? The moment you uploaded copyrighted content to YouTube, you lost the game.

And, if YouTube has always been such a “pirate site,” then why did Viacom try several times to buy it?

Finally, under the DMCA safe harbor rules, we are completely inside of the letter and spirit of the law. Precedents have been set for such rulings in trials like Io Group v. Veoh.

YouTube and Google have no intention to bail out a struggling business. Learn how to make your own money.

The defense rests.

Round 3?

This debate is never going to end, but it may die down. Viacom wants to use YouTube as a promotional tool, and bleed it dry for the occasional bit of infringement.

We side with YouTube, surprisingly, but that does not mean that Viacom’s suit has no merit. It merely means that it has no where near the amount of merit required to attempt to grab one billion dollars of Google’s money.

What do you think will happen?

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