March 17, 2007
Viacom Lawsuit Directed at Google/YouTube for More than $1 Billion

Alongside news that MTVN plans to inject some of the defining features of YouTube into its own video services, such as grabability and quotability of clips, its parent company Viacom is suing YouTube for more than $1 billion in damages.

The lawsuit was filed this past Tuesday in U.S. District Court in New York using such words as "intentional" and "massive" to describe the company's culpability in copyright infringement. As Jeremy W. Peters with The New York Times writes, "Viacom's suit is the most aggressive move so far by an old-line media company against the highly popular but legally questionable practice of posting copyrighted media content online."

In Daisy Whitney's coverage from TelevisionWeek, she quotes a Google spokesperson as saying:

We are confident that YouTube has respected the legal rights of copyright holders and believe the courts will agree. 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. We will certainly not let this suit become a distraction to the continuing growth and strong performance of YouTube and its ability to attract more users, more traffic and build a stronger community.

Our own thoughts at C3, and this has been well-articulated by our research manager Joshua Green, is that a distinction has to be made in these suits between YouTube the community and YouTube the corporate entity. Language is a big deal, and one of the reasons Viacom seems the bad guy to so many people is that users may feel that an attack on YouTube the company is an attack on YouTube the community. When Viacom pulls its clips from YouTube, it's not just pulling the clips hosted on corporate YouTube's site but it is pulling content that YouTube community members were in the process of sharing, often short clips from shows like The Daily Show whose archives aren't even available commercially at the present time.

That's not to say that Google is in the right here. In fact, quite the contrary. I wrote back in February of my fear that both Viacom and Google were forgetting about the consumer in this squabble of theirs. I wrote:

While this press release sounds good from a business perspective, that Viacom would pull its content from a distributor who is not working out a fair sharing agreement, what's missing is the fact that YouTube is not the entity posting this content--it's the fans, fans who see quoting from these shows and sharing their favorite moments with each other as part of expressing their love for these programs.

Instead, Viacom and Google--through their squabble with YouTube over how big the piece of the pie will be--has lost perspective of the fan in the process, the whole force driving the power of both entities. I'd personally like to see Viacom's bottom line and figure out any use for YouTube at all if it weren't for these massive number of copyright infringers and all those people who are seeking out those content through such viral means.

Part of this reason is because the validity of quoting has not been upheld and is instead lumped together with blatant piracy as far as most copyright holders are concerned. Meanwhile, Google seems intent on finding ways to increase its profitability as much as possible and is forming deals with copyright holders that may compromise some of what makes YouTube so attractive in the first place, primarily grabability and quotability.

No one from MTVN, our partner here in the consortium, was contacted during the writing of this post.