Tech Check

Viacom Answers YouTube's Claims

He said, she said, they said: Let the War of Words truly begin between Google's YouTube and Viacom.


In an earlier post, I included some of the details of the documentsthat instantly caught my eye.

The one I ended with is the one I should have began with, per Viacom's legal team, which tells me subsequent to the filing that this was a clear case of cashing in on someone else's hard work.

"Godfather tactics," says one Viacom attorney. "A shakedown," says another. It's clear in the court documents that Youtube could have filtered what was authorized to post from Viacom versus what wasn't, but chose not to in exchange for building a bigger name for itself online.

Viacom filed a $1 billion suit against YouTube claiming copyright infringement three years ago. The charges and evidence in the case have been sealed until today. Viacom was pressing to have some of this material released; Google not so much, and that should indicate who thinks they might have the upper hand in all of this. While Google and YouTube might make a compelling argument, Viacom says its filing focuses on the law, and in this case, based on the emails, the law is clearly on Viacom's side.

You decide:

Viacom says it isn't trying to shut down YouTube, or even that YouTube is a bad thing. "We're just trying to get YouTube to behave," says one attorney. "What these emails show, contrary to everything Google has said until now, is that these guys knew exactly what they were doing."

The emails, as filed in these court documents, seem damaging. One, from YouTube co-founder Chad Hurley, warns a colleague to "save your lunch money for some lawsuits." Another shows that co-founder Jawed Karim was uploading copyrighted videos himself.

YouTube claims the court has to decided between what was "copyrighted" and what was authorized. And with 18 agencies posting videos on behalf of Viacom, there was no way for YouTube to know what was authorized and what wasn't. And as a service provider, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act absolves YouTube from being responsible for the activities of those using the site and uploading material.

Not so, says Viacom. The emails clearly show that YouTube founders were not only aware that copyrighted material was being posted on the site, but either turned a blind eye to it, or dragged their feet after being notified that an unauthorized clip needed to be removed.

One email exchange along these lines seems particularly damning. From Chad Hurley to his co-founder team Steve Chen and Jawed Karim: "We need to start being diligent about rejecting copyrighted/inappropriate content. We are getting serious traffic and attention now, I don't want this to be killed by a potentially bad experience of a network exec or someone visiting us. Like there is a CNN clip of the shuttle clip on the site today, if the boys from Turner would come to the site, they might be pissed? These guys are the ones that will buy us for big money, so lets make them happy. We can then roll a lot of this work into a flagging system soon."

Steve Chen responds: "But we should just keep that stuff on the site. 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 get (sic) in touch with CNN legal. 2 weeks later we get a cease & desist letter. We take down the video." Hurley replies: "I just don't want to create a bad vibe… and perhaps give the users or the press something bad to write about."

Viacom says the email is clear evidence that YouTube was trying to bolster the site with unauthorized clips in hopes of a big payday some day. And as detailed in an earlier post, YouTube's founders and investors indeed shared in a big payday.

And speaking of that payday: Viacom disputes YouTube's claims that the company was "desperately" trying to acquire Youtube and that somehow the suit was a sour grapes kind of move. "We never made an offer," says one Viacom attorney. "It never reached corporate," says another, adding that Viacom division MTV expressed an early interest in a deal for Youtube but then the financials never made enough sense for the idea to percolate up the corporate chain.

Meantime, I suspect we haven't heard the last of this battle. With a precedent of how video and content providers work with online sites and distributors hanging in the balance, the stakes in this suit are enormous. And even after three years, this is only just the beginning.

Click on the links provided below so you can see in their own words what Viacom and YouTube are claiming. This is a great, great read.