Friday, March 19, 2010

Viacom Says YouTube Ignored Copyrights; New York Times, 3/19/10

Miguel Helft, New York Times; Viacom Says YouTube Ignored Copyrights:

"Pointing to internal YouTube e-mail messages, Viacom said in a court filing that the video site’s founders turned a blind eye when users uploaded copyrighted clips so they could amass a big audience and sell the company quickly.

The charge was one of many made by Viacom in filings unsealed on Thursday in its three-year-old copyright lawsuit against YouTube and Google, which bought YouTube in 2006 for $1.65 billion.

Google fired back, saying Viacom was distorting the record by taking passages from e-mail messages out of context. It also said Viacom employees and agents “continuously and secretly” uploaded clips from the company’s television shows and movies to YouTube for promotional purposes, even as they were complaining about copyright violations.

“They are both tearing each other up, and both are scoring points,” said Eric Goldman, director of the High-Tech Law Institute at the Santa Clara University School of Law.

The lawsuit accused YouTube of profiting from thousands of clips from Viacom movies and shows that were uploaded to the site without permission.

It was filed at the height of tensions between Google and media companies over copyrights — tensions that have since eased substantially. YouTube, which is by far the Web’s largest video site, has set up an automated system to detect infringing videos and signed revenue-sharing agreements with more than a thousand media companies.

But more broadly, media companies remain wary of losing control as more of their products become digital, making them easier to copy.

As part of their motions for summary judgment in the case, both sides released hundreds of pages of documents and exhibits on Thursday, including internal documents obtained through the discovery process.

Among them were scores of e-mail messages from YouTube’s founders — Chad Hurley, Steve Chen and Jawed Karim — discussing what to do about clips uploaded to YouTube that clearly belonged to major studios or television networks.

In a 2005 e-mail message to Roelof Botha, a partner at Sequoia Capital, YouTube’s major outside investor, Mr. Chen described a system that the company had put in place for users to flag copyrighted and pornographic content: “That way, the perception is that we are concerned about this type of material and we’re actively monitoring it.”

Mr. Chen goes on to acknowledge that much of the infringing material will remain on the site, but that users won’t be able to easily stumble upon it.

Google countered that the message was truncated and taken out of context, and that it merely suggested that YouTube was serious about policing its site for copyrighted content.

One e-mail message revealed that even as YouTube’s founders were discussing how to deal with copyrighted clips, one of them was uploading such material.

In July 2005, Mr. Chen wrote: “Jawed, please stop putting stolen videos on the site. We’re going to have a tough time defending the fact that we’re not liable for the copyrighted material on the site because we didn’t put it up when one of the co-founders is blatantly stealing content from other sites and trying to get everyone to see it.” Google said that message referred to “viral videos,” not pirated media content.

In another e-mail message from January 2006, a Google executive refers to a conversation with Mr. Hurley and another YouTube executive about copyrights, and compares YouTube with the much less popular Google Video service.

“YouTube is at an advantage b/c they aren’t the target that we are with issues like this. They are aware of this (I spoke with them on Friday) and they plan on exploiting this in order to get more and more traffic.”"

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