March 25, 2007
Viacom's iFilm Questioned by Online Reporters for Having Copyright Violations Among Online Videos

Another set of interesting pieces over the past week focuses on Viacom's iFilm and how a variety of copyright infringements on the Viacom-owned video hosting site could cause major problems for the company's quest to sue YouTube for $1 billion.

According to the story from Eric Bangeman at ARS Technica, ARS "found several instances of infringing video hosted by iFilm--content for which Viacom does not own the copyright."

The story got quite a bit of online play in the past week, including an oft-quoted blurb on Slashdot.

Bangeman writes that Viacom sent him a statement in return that "contributions to iFilm are all screened by iFilm employees prior to posting, to ensure that copyrighted, pornographic or other restricted content is not posted on the site," but he questions how Viacom owned the footage to various NBA and college football fights he saw on iFilm.

He also talked to copyright attorney Greg Gabriel, who predicted that Viacom's case could be damaged greatly if they are not taking the same precautions in their own online video sharing site that they are expecting YouTube to take.

Colin Samuels wrote an intriguing post on Infamy or Priase focusing particuarly on the Viacom statement response, pointing out that copyright violations on iFilm could be considered substantially worse than that on YouTube if it really is not an automated system but actively involves the screening of employees, since those employees would have actively chosen to put copyright violations up on the site rather than it just happening through an automated system.

"When it comes to copyright at least, this may put Viacom in a worse position than YouTube," he writes, and he goes on to question, "Even if they're successful, this could turn out to be the most expensive billion dollars Viacom's ever earned."

I had mused privately when Viacom first went forward with their lawsuit how such a legal precedent could be a danger to their own sites in an age where allowing user-generated content a voice has become more important than ever. By trying to tighten down legal restrictions on video copyright, could Viacom be putting itself in legal jeopardy?

Of course, you can imagine how justified some bloggers feel by directing further venom toward the media conglomerate for bringing forth the lawsuit in the first place. Matt Buchanan at Gizmodo writes, "What's that delicious taste I suddenly I have in my mouth? Oh wait, I think I know what it is--sweet, sweet irony."

While I haven't seen the iFilm videos in question, no one has actively disputed the ARS Technica story, so I'm interested in seeing if this does have any affect on the perception of Viacom's moral justification in this case. In regard to the jury of the blogosphere, the company has definitely weakened its case by even the insinuation of such hypocrisy.

I first wrote about the Viacom/Google lawsuit earlier this month, where my take focused on the importance of distinguishing between YouTube the corporate entity and YouTube the user community. At the time, I wrote, "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."

However, even as Viacom has pursued the lawsuit against Google, Viacom property MTV Networks (a partner here in the Convergence Culture Consortium) has indicated that the MTVN sites would incorporate some of the most compelling aspects of YouTube's site into the video they make available on their own sites, including "grabability" and "quotability." See more here.

No one at MTV Networks was contacted regarding this post.