The Shocking, Scandalous Details of the YouTube-Viacom Spat

Viacom is suing Google's YouTube for $1 billion for copyright infringement. As you know, much of YouTube is filled with pirated material against which Google sells ads. What might (or might not) surprise you is that Google doesn't seem to care very much. That's what we've learned from unsealed court documents that suggest Google's executives purposefully left pirated material online.

Some damning evidence, via USA Today:
Viacom cites emails from YouTube co-founder Steve Chen including one where he says "if you remove the potential copyright infringements ... site traffic and virality will drop to maybe 20% of what it is.

"Viacom says Chen discussed in another instance how YouTube could handle a hot news clip from CNN: "[I] really don't see what will happen. what? someone from cnn sees it? he happens to be someone with power? he happens to want to take it down right away. he gets in touch with cnn legal. 2 weeks later, we get a cease & desist [takedown] letter. we take the video down."

On May 10, 2006, during Google's effort to buy YouTube, Viacom says that Ethan Anderson, International Business Product Manager for Google Video, stated: "I can't believe you're recommending buying YouTube. . . . they're 80% illegal pirated content."
As Wired's David Kravets points out, the accusation is here not that YouTube is hosting Viacom videos. After all, Viacom has uploaded thousands of videos to YouTube, according to a statement by Google. Even when pirated videos are uploaded, YouTube doesn't have to verify their authenticity until the rightsholder files a request. But this suit is about Google purposefully loosening its copyright standards to sell ads against pirated Viacom-owned content. Kravets explains the law:
Viacom claims YouTube has lost the so-called "safe harbor" protection of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The DMCA, adopted in 1998, provides internet service providers like YouTube immunity from infringement lawsuits if, among other things, they promptly remove copyrighted content at the request of the rightsholder.
This will be an interesting case. If the emails are authentic, Google blatantly bent the law to make money from content they knew YouTube hosted illegally. But current law seems to lean heavily toward YouTube and similar internet service providers.
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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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