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Viacom Says YouTube Intentionally Ignored Copyrights

18 Mar, 2010 By: Chris Tribbey

Opening briefs in Viacom’s long-running $1 billion lawsuit against Google and YouTube were unsealed March 18, revealing e-mails that Viacom says prove the video-sharing site intentionally ignored copyrights for years.

Google counters in the documents, saying it can prove Viacom employees purposefully uploaded copyrighted content with the hopes of creating “the appearance of authentic grass-roots interest in the content promoted.”

Both companies issued statements claiming the documents vindicate their positions. YouTube says it is protected under the safe harbors of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Viacom says the Supreme Court has made it clear: A service that intentionally hosts infringing copyrighted material is liable for it.

“For years, Viacom continuously and secretly uploaded its content to YouTube, even while publicly complaining about its presence there,” YouTube attorney Zahavah Levine wrote on the company’s blog. “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 e-mail addresses. It even sent employees to Kinko's to upload clips from computers that couldn't be traced to Viacom.”

Viacom said in a statement that YouTube “was intentionally built on infringement.”

“Google bought YouTube [in 2006] because it was a haven of infringement,” the statement reads. “Google knew that YouTube's popularity depended on infringing materials with several senior Google executives warning that YouTube was a ‘rogue enabler of content theft.’

“Instead of complying with the law, Google willfully and knowingly chose to continue YouTube's illegal practices.”

Google claims in the documents that Viacom hires third-party marketers to post content on YouTube, and quotes a Paramount employee as saying posted clips “should appear as if a fan created and posted it.” Google also says in the documents that media companies would often retract requests for content to be taken down because the media companies had authorized or uploaded the content to begin with.

“These self-inflicted infringement claims led to counter-notices from Viacom’s marketers, sheepish retractions from BayTSP, and even to the suspension of Viacom’s own authorized YouTube accounts for supposed copyright violations,” the documents read.

However, Viacom points to e-mails between YouTube co-founders Chad Hurley, Steve Chen and Jawed Karim in 2005, in which they discuss allowing copyrighted content 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,” Chen is alleged to have written.

The documents were among several legal briefs and internal documents from both companies made available to the public for the first time.

Viacom first sued Google and YouTube in March 2007.


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