Friday, March 19, 2010

YouTube, Viacom trade barbs in copyright spat

On Thursday, several previously sealed documents in the ongoing copyright infringement lawsuit by Viacom against YouTube were made public. At the same time, both YouTube and Viacom posted their own views on the matter.

Zahavah Levine, YouTube Chief Counsel, wrote a blog post that:
For years, Viacom continuously and secretly uploaded its content to YouTube, even while publicly complaining about its presence there. It hired no fewer than 18 different marketing agencies to upload its content to the site. It deliberately "roughed up" the videos to make them look stolen or leaked. It opened YouTube accounts using phony email addresses. It even sent employees to Kinko's to upload clips from computers that couldn't be traced to Viacom. And in an effort to promote its own shows, as a matter of company policy Viacom routinely left up clips from shows that had been uploaded to YouTube by ordinary users. Executives as high up as the president of Comedy Central and the head of MTV Networks felt "very strongly" that clips from shows like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report should remain on YouTube.
That statement is clear: Viacom seeded YouTube with videos while at the same time complaining about infringing content, while uploading content to promote itself. Basically, it wanted it both ways.

In fact, a Viacom executive reportedly wrote:
"I am uploading YouTube videos under the fake grassroots account 'demansr' -- am having a phone conversation with YouTube people on Wednesday as they are already questioning my identity. B*stards."
However, a look at one of the documents, Viacom's "Statement of Undisputed Facts," shows some pretty incriminating evidence in the other direction. For example, in a June 15,2005 email to YouTube co-founders Chad Hurley and Jawed Karim, YouTube co- founder Steve Chen stated:
"we got a complaint from someone that we were violating their user agreement. i *think* it may be because we're hosting copyrighted content. instead of taking it down - i'm not about to take down content because our ISP is giving us sh*t - we should just investigate moving"
In a July 10, 2005 email to YouTube co-founders Chad Hurley and Steve Chen, YouTube co-founder Jawed Karim said: that he had found a "copyright video" and stated: "Ordinarily I'd say reject it, but I agree with Steve, let's ease up on our strict polìcies for now. So let's just leave copyrighted stuff there if it' s news clips. I still think we should reject some other (C) things tho. . ."; Chad Hurley replìed, "ok man, save your meal money for some lawsuits! ;) no really, I guess we'll just see what happens."
And still more:
In a July 19, 2005 email to YouTube co-founders Chad Hurley and Jawed Karim, YouTube co-founder Steve 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 lìable for the copyrighted material on the site because we didn't put it up when one of the co-founders is blatantly stealìng content from other sites and trying to get everyone to see it."
That, and other emails in that document, pretty clearly indicate that YouTube knew much of their content was infringing, and in fact uploaded some of it themselves.

It is, however, clear that no one should be casting stones in this issue, as it looks like neither side is without sin. At any rate, this is far from over. You can read two more documents released Thursday here (1, 2).

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