Viacom continues its aggressive assault on Google and subsidiary YouTube policies with a lawsuit in U.S. District Court claiming more than $1 billion in damages. That’s the headline — now the details. (We’ve posted the pdf for you to read or download.):
Several Viacom entities — Viacom International, Comedy Partners, Country Music Television Inc., Paramount Pictures and BET — are parties in the 27-page suit filed this morning in the Southern District of New York against YouTube and Google. The media company alleges that the innovations that have fueled the internet revolution “also have been misused to fuel an explosion of copyright infringement by exploiting the inexpensive duplication and distribution made possible by digital technology.” And, Viacom claims, in a lengthy introduction, some “have sought their fortunes by brazenly exploiting the infringing potential of digital technology.” That group, from Viacom’s perspective, includes YouTube, which, the suit says in the often grandiose wording of such documents — not only “fundamentally threatens” Viacom “but the economic underpinnings of one of the most important sectors of the United States economy.” The sale of YouTube to Google generated “extraordinary riches for YouTube founders and investors.”
— Despite reports that many clips identified in its recent major cease-and-desist demand weren’t Viacom content after all, the company says it has identified more than 150,000 unauthorized clips that have been viewed “an astounding 1.5 billion times.”
— Viacom claims YouTube deliberately “shifts the burden” completely to copyright holders because it allows the site to profit.
Copyright protection as bargaining point:
— Perhaps most important, Viacom claims that YouTube “has deliberately withheld the application of available copyright protection measures in order to coerce rights holders to grant it licenses on favorable terms.” And that YouTube has actively kept copyright holders from finding infringing videos through searching the site. (Later, the suit also claims the “purported copyright protection tools” being offered to partners isn’t even that effective.)
What Viacom wants (besides attention):
— A declaration that YouTube and Google “willfully” infringe on Viacom’s copyrights.
— A permanent injunction requiring the defendants “to employ reasonable methodologies” to limit or prevent infringement.
— And, the real attention-getter, statutory damages or actual damages plus profits of at least $1 billion.
The fine print:
— The list of legit distribution points includes Joost, which isn’t yet public, “and numerous others that currently exist or are just emerging.”
— Viacom points to Google’s decision to include YouTube clips in its own video search.
— Lots of detail about how Viacom thinks YouTube operates.
Where’s the money?:
— YouTube’s actual profitability has been the subject of much conjecture. Truly, the only profit anyone can be sure of externally is the actual sale to Google. Viacom contends YouTube derives ad revenue from video on its own site and the embed feature and that infringing material made the site attractive to users more quickly and aided the quick jump to a $1.65 billion valuation.
Viacom makes much of Chad Hurley’s comments and press reports that YouTube will only offer its copyright tools to business partners. The suit acknowledges Google CEO Eric Schmidt’s recent comment about working with all copyright holders but notes the lack of specifics and assurances that the level of protection would be the same for parters and non-licensees.
— None beyond the inevitable claim that certain issues can’t be discussed in detail now because they’re the subject of a lawsuit. It’s basically business as usual. Viacom gets to look aggressive; Google execs get to talk some more about how media companies use law as a form of negotiating.
Update: Google’s response: “We are confident that YouTube has respected the legal rights of copyright holders and believe the courts will agree.”
— <a href="http://www.paidcontent.org/entry/419-viacom-and-youtubes-dance-around-history-through-links" title="Viacom and YouTube