Viacom Lawsuit May Uncover Its Own YouTube Uploads

By March 18, 2010

American media conglomerate Viacom and Google's Web Video site YouTube are embroiled in a vicious legal accusation swap that intensified today with a release of court records. What began as a $1 billion lawsuit by Viacom aimed at

YouTube for not sufficiently acting on users uploading copyrighted content has now been turned against the the media organization.

YouTube's main defense consists of claims that Viacom "continuously and secretly uploaded its content to YouTube, even while complaining about its presence there," as YouTube's Chief Counsel Zahavah Levine asserts in a blog post.

Initially in question by the Viacom lawsuit was whether YouTube has knowingly benefitted from the publishing of unauthorized material, which could disqualify it from protection by the Safe Harbor section of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

The policy of the founders of YouTube, according to Viacom, was at best to look the other way, at worst to actively encourage the keeping of material in question so that they would garner more page views, more members, and more advertising revenue.

But the same post insists that Chad Hurley, Steve Chen and Jawed Karim consistently discouraged terms of use violations. Instead, Levine claims that Viacom employed third parties to upload clips, deliberately altered them to look leaked or stolen, and used phony YouTube accounts. Viacom also repeatedly tried to buy YouTube.

While legal review has yet to decide who is right in their arguments, the Content ID system that YouTube employs makes Viacom's case more difficult. This system scans uploaded content for copyrighted material and notifies rights holders if its findings. Rights holders can block, leave up, or monetize these videos.

If the lawsuit ends in Viacom's favor despite this system, it would establish a precedent that make sites responsible for determining whether content is authorized or not, and weigh prohibitive consequences on sites that decide wrongly.

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