Viacom Escalates YouTube Copyright Fight

Mar 13, 2007  •  Post A Comment

Viacom ramped up its copyright battle against YouTube today, suing the video-sharing Web site and its corporate parent, Google, seeking more than $1 billion in damages.

The media company filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York Tuesday, seeking damages for “massive, intentional” copyright infringement and also an injunction to prohibit future unauthorized use of Viacom content.

Viacom contends that nearly 160,000 unauthorized clips of its material have been viewed more than 1.5 billion times on YouTube. Legal experts have predicted that YouTube would face a legal quagmire as entertainment companies seek to protect their copyrights.

Google purchased YouTube for $1.65 billion in October, creating a deep-pocketed parent company for content creators to go after in court. The suit increases pressure on YouTube and other video-sharing sites to develop technology that screens out copyright material, and may force a change in those sites’ business models.

Today’s suit follows a Feb. 2 takedown notice from Viacom, requesting the removal of 100,000 clips. YouTube complied with that order.

Viacom said during its last earnings conference call said that since YouTube removed the Viacom material, visits to the media company’s own Web sites has increased. YouTube’s traffic hasn’t declined since it removed the Viacom clips.

Late last year, Viacom was involved in high-level discussions with other big media companies to create an industry consortium to develop a site featuring authorized clips to compete with YouTube. Those efforts fell apart.

“YouTube is a significant, for-profit organization that has built a lucrative business out of exploiting the devotion of fans to others’ creative works in order to enrich itself and its corporate parent Google,” Viacom said in a statement. “Their business model, which is based on building traffic and selling advertising off of unlicensed content, is clearly illegal and is in obvious conflict with copyright laws.”

YouTube didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

A Google representative said: “We have not received the lawsuit but are confident that YouTube has respected the legal rights of copyright holders and believe the courts will agree. YouTube is great for users and offers real opportunities to rights holders: the opportunity to interact with users; to promote their content to a young and growing audience; and to tap into the online advertising market. We will certainly not let this suit become a distraction to the continuing growth and strong performance of YouTube and its ability to attract more users, more traffic and build a stronger community.”

During a Bloomberg TV interview last week, Google CEO Eric Schmidt said, “The growth of YouTube, the growth of online, is so fundamental that these [media] companies are going to be forced to work with and in the Internet.”

Media companies wielded copyright lawsuits against song-sharing sites such as Napster a few years ago to try to stanch unauthorized music trading on the Web. While song piracy continues, the music companies did succeed in forcing the most high-profile sharing sites to curb copyright violations.

YouTube has said previously that it has installed copyright protection measures and plans to implement better tools. YouTube’s efforts lag behind MySpace, which recently introduced a pilot program to test digital fingerprinting technology to filter out unauthorized clips. YouTube has yet to install fingerprinting technology.

(Editor: Baumann)

Daisy’s Trial & Error Blog: “TVWeek Confessional-Have you Watched Pirated Clips?”