Security Strategy, Plan, Budget

Viacom sues Google and YouTube over copyright infringement

Viacom lodged a $1 billion lawsuit against Google and YouTube for copyright infringements, the media conglomerate announced today.

The company filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York for what it is calling the “massive intentional copyright infringement of Viacom’s entertainment properties.” Viacom’s complaint claims that YouTube plays host to 160,000 pirated clips of Viacom programming, with users accessing the content more than 1.5 billion times.

“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 representatives wrote in a prepared statement. “In fact, YouTube’s strategy has been to avoid taking proactive steps to curtail the infringement on its site, thus generating significant traffic and revenues for itself while shifting the entire burden – and high cost – of monitoring YouTube onto the victims of its infringement."

Google responded with its own statement, claiming that it had commited no wrong and would be vindicated in court.

"We are confident that YouTube has respected the legal rights of copyright holders and believe the courts will agree," a Google spokesperson said in an emailed statement. "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."

Viacom and Google had been in negotiation about copyrighted material even before Google purchased YouTube in October 2006 for $1.65 billion. As the owner of a network portfolio that includes MTV, Comedy Central, Nickelodeon and Spike TV, Viacom controls copyrighted programming that has been extremely popular for YouTube users to share without authorization.

Initial negotiations between Viacom and Google about YouTube were conducted under the auspices of forming a partnership for legal sharing of Viacom content on YouTube pages. However, talks fell apart and Viacom signed an distribution contract with the P2P market player Joost in February.

Throughout negotiations, Viacom was working with Google to take down pirated material made available by YouTube users on the video-sharing site. In October Viacom ordered the removal of numerous Comedy Central clips from YouTube and the company again asked Google to take down 100,000 Viacom clips in February.

The media giant was clearly unhappy with Google’s efforts and expressed this dissatisfaction today’s statement.

“After a great deal of unproductive negotiation, and remedial efforts by ourselves and other copyright holders, YouTube continues in its unlawful business model,” the statement read. “Therefore, we must turn to the courts to prevent Google and YouTube from continuing to steal value from artists and to obtain compensation for the significant damage they have caused.”

Some consumer advocates believe that the lawsuit is the wrong approach for Viacom to protect its intellectual property.

“I think this lawsuit by Viacom represents indulgence in some of the worst anti-innovation instincts that the entertainment industry has to offer,” said Fred von Lohmann of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “Obviously, many other entertainment companies have behaved very differently. Companies like Warner Music and Universal Music Groups have found new business arrangements that have allowed them to take advantage of and build on new media opportunities.”

Click here to email West Coast Bureau Chief Ericka Chickowski.

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