March 13, 2007 6:35 AM PDT

Viacom sues Google over YouTube clips

Viacom on Tuesday slapped YouTube and parent company Google with a lawsuit, accusing the wildly popular video-sharing site of "massive intentional copyright infringement" and seeking more than $1 billion in damages.

The complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, contends that nearly 160,000 unauthorized clips of Viacom's entertainment programming have been available on YouTube and that these clips have been viewed more than 1.5 billion times. (PDF: Viacom's complaint.)

Viacom, an entertainment giant that owns Paramount Pictures, DreamWorks and a number of cable channels, said it has also asked the court for an injunction to halt the alleged copyright infringement.

"YouTube appropriates the value of creative content on a massive scale for YouTube's benefit without payment or license," Viacom said in its complaint. "YouTube's brazen disregard of the intellectual-property laws fundamentally threatens not just plaintiffs but the economic underpinnings of one of the most important sectors of the United States economy."

The lawsuit represents a serious escalation in the conflict with YouTube, and it is also the most significant legal challenge over intellectual-property rights to video sharing's No. 1 site. But some industry observers doubt that this will embolden other entertainment companies to mount their own court challenges.

Google downplayed the legal challenge and extolled the benefits to content creators that it sees in YouTube.

"We have not received the lawsuit but are confident that YouTube has respected the legal rights of copyright holders and believe the courts will agree," Google said in a statement. "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 (and) more traffic, and (to) build a stronger community."

Google, which acquired YouTube last October for $1.65 billion, recognized the possibility that the video site would one day be forced to wage lengthy court battles. The company has reportedly set aside a sum of money to fund legal costs.

Meanwhile, Google has successfully negotiated licensing deals with many entertainment companies, including Warner Music Group, CBS and most recently, the BBC.

"This is Viacom and Google in a negotiation that hasn't gone so smoothly...Viacom is just really turning up the heat."
--Edward Naughton, partner, Holland & Knight

Some advocacy groups suggested that the "fair use" doctrine of copyright law, which allows the noncommercial reproduction of works for purposes like criticism, comment, news reporting and research, should protect YouTube users that post short clips or mainstream-media works.

"Simply (defining material as) 'unauthorized' does not make its use illegal," Gigi Sohn, president of the advocacy group Public Knowledge, said in a statement.

"I don't think this is the start of a whole series of litigation," said Edward Naughton, intellectual-property partner at Holland & Knight. "I think this is Viacom and Google in a negotiation that hasn't gone so smoothly, so it has gone to litigation...Viacom is just really turning up the heat."

Although legitimate copyright concerns come into play, Viacom's action is "probably about a large company that would prefer the old status quo, where they had most of the control (over their content distribution), and they didn't cede it to companies like YouTube and Google," said Jeffrey Lindgren, an intellectual-property lawyer at Morgan Miller Blair in San Francisco.

"I would expect some (suits from other companies to) follow," he added, "but I don't know (that) this is really going to lead to the onslaught that is the end of Google and YouTube."

Tech-related YouTube clips

Viacom isn't the only entertainment conglomerate yet to partner with the Google division. Some executives have been very critical of YouTube's practices, including Jeff Zucker, the CEO of NBC.

An NBC Universal representative declined to comment Tuesday on whether the company has plans for litigation against YouTube similar to that of Viacom. Twentieth Century Fox Film spokesman Chris Alexander, meanwhile, said the Viacom complaint is far more sweeping than any action his company has pursued against the video-sharing site.

Earlier this year, the News Corp. unit subpoenaed YouTube for the identities of two users who had allegedly posted as-yet-unaired episodes of the popular show 24 because it was "interested in protecting full episodes of our series that we have yet to monetize," he said.

"We take protection of our copyrights very seriously, and we look at them on a case-by-case basis," Alexander said, but he added that he was unaware of any companywide policy governing clips, as opposed to entire episodes, posted to video-sharing sites.

Viacom last month caused a stir by demanding that YouTube remove 100,000 infringing clips. Some observers shrugged, calling it a negotiating tactic by Viacom and predicted that the two would eventually become partners.

Nonetheless, Viacom says in its complaint that YouTube failed to prevent its users from posting pirated material to the site. San Bruno, Calif.-based YouTube will remove clips that feature unauthorized material only after it receives a takedown notice from the copyright holder, Viacom said.

This, many entertainment executives say, is unfair. YouTube's policy, which the company says complies with copyright law, forces many of the biggest studios to devote time and money toward policing someone else's site. Often, no sooner than a company asks YouTube to take down a clip, users post a new version of the same clip.

"YouTube has deliberately chosen not to take reasonable precautions to deter the rampant infringement on its site," Viacom said in its complaint. "Because YouTube directly profits from the availability of popular infringing works on its site, it has decided to shift the burden entirely onto copyright owners to monitor the YouTube site on a daily or hourly basis to detect infringing videos.

A source inside Viacom said the company would likely have not filed suit, had it not repeatedly found clips that it had already asked to be taken down.

"More and more of the company's resources are going to this," the source said. "The company basically is paying for an entire new department to watch YouTube."

Google lawyers said they are relying on a 1998 law called the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) to shield them from liability. One provision of that statute generally says companies are off the hook if they remove copyrighted content promptly when it is brought to their attention.

Internet services may only benefit from that so-called "safe harbor" if they also meet a four-pronged test. Those conditions include not being "aware of facts or circumstances from which infringing activity is apparent" and not receiving "financial benefit directly attributable to the infringing activity."

Viacom in its complaint argues Google and YouTube do not qualify for that relief, but Glenn Brown, an in-house product counsel for the merged companies, said he was confident their actions were on solid legal ground. "We meet those requirements and go above and beyond them in helping content providers identify copyright infringements," he said in a telephone interview Tuesday afternoon.

YouTube was also expected late last year to release a technology that would automatically weed out copyright content from the site. NBC's Zucker and others in Hollywood have accused the company of dragging its feet. Viacom said that only when an agreement is reached will YouTube begin safeguarding an entertainment company's copyright property.

"YouTube has deliberately withheld the application of available copyright protection measures in order to coerce rights holders to grant it licenses on favorable terms," according to the complaint.

CNET's Elinor Mills contributed to this report.

See more CNET content tagged:
Viacom Inc., YouTube, entertainment company, intellectual property, litigation


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Subject line:
Didn't Youtube already take down all the Viacom clips they know
about when asked?
Posted by Dr. B (91 comments )
Reply Link Flag
You Missed the Point
As the story notes, Viacom is complaining that they and other content owners must police YouTube to ensure their copyrights aren't violated. They contend that YouTube, making the opportunity to violate content owner rights at a profit, must police itself. Would that people understood that there are things one mustn't do and actually exercised self control to avoid doing them. Then, Viacom would be complaining and YouTube wouldn't need to police its contents or fight a lawsuit.
Posted by c|net Reader (856 comments )
Link Flag
Oh yeah, like nobody saw this coming...
YouTube exists almost exclusively for the purpose of distributing pirated clips. The whole 'user-generated content' angle is pretty much just a big joke.
Posted by Hardrada (359 comments )
Link Flag
The real point is
Lawyers, Lawyers, and damn lawyers. :-)

Its all about what can I take from you. period. Google has already negoiated with several companies, Viacom just wants too much money for nothing.

Lawsuits used to be a way to redress wrongs. Now they are used for everything else, politics, creating Spin, pure greed, you name it.

Ben Franklin had it right. "First we shoot all the lawyers..." :-)

Posted by eldernorm (220 comments )
Link Flag
Anybody wanna bet that Microsoft doesn't have a back hand in here somewhere?

There is a bigger story here... but will CNET get to it first?

The suspense is killing me... (* CHUCKLE )*

Posted by wbenton (522 comments )
Reply Link Flag
YouTube was copy-righht landmine
Everybody knew Youtube was a copy-right landmine and the content sharks are waiting to pounce on the new buyer of the company. Mark Cuban has warned about what was about to come a YouTube buyer. This was to be expected. I dont know if MSFT is in play, this would have happened no matter who is behind, because the Studio fat cats want money.

Youtube is a good website and I honestly believe it can do without the Mainstream Media junk. This is just an arm-twisting tactic to make a deal with youtube.

Hey google for one day disable all those hollywood studios searches and blame it on a glitch. I love it when tech companies pay back this studio fat cats.
Posted by YankeePoodle (785 comments )
Link Flag
The first rule if you are going to sue someone is "do they have deep pockets?"

If the answer to rule one is yes, one does not need to even consider points 2 through 10 which deal with trivialities like whether anyone was harmed. The prospect of having a "jury of peers" consisting of housewives and retired sanitation workers (both honorable professions) located in Viacom's home town to make a decision on a billion dollar windfall to their local company would seem to motivate Google to consider a nuisance payment.

Of course, then everyone who has a home video on YouTube would ask for their piece of the action so one hopes that Qoogle is employing squads of lawyers to keep their company. Of course all of funds spent on attorneys against attorneys would never have been put to better use -- like new product development or hiring the best and the brightest.

A mediocre lawyer can beat a great techie hands down, any day!
Posted by TomMariner (762 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Better get use too it Viacom
I've never seen such cry babies on my whole life. I don't think youtube is in violation of any degree. Most of the videos are centralized in one place it's not like people are sending them one to another such as like file sharing
Posted by kyle172 (65 comments )
Reply Link Flag
How much
will the purchase of youtube really cost Google in the end? Didnt Mark Cuban predict this???

Youtube and myspace are human garbage collections on the Internet.

I hope they could not happen to a better maybe Sony.
Posted by Lindy01 (443 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Viacom is full of it
As usually content companies think that when someone doesn't do things exactly they way they want, it's illegal. Google as far as we know has fulfilled it's obligations under the DMCA to promptly remove material upon receiving a valid notice. Hell they even removed material that didn't belong to Viacom because Viacom could be bother to verify the stuff they wanted removed was actually infringing. They've even complied with requests to identify individuals who post material.
Posted by unknown unknown (1951 comments )
Reply Link Flag
One more thing
Maybe Google will do like IBM is doing to SCO, and bankrupt them....We can only hope.
Posted by unknown unknown (1951 comments )
Link Flag
I think Dvorak made the most appropriate comment about this...
at <a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>

Posted by wfseube (22 comments )
Reply Link Flag
What YouTube is trying to do is the same as if I stole my
neighbours stuff, and then said, "Look, all you had to say is that
you want it back..." YouTube is knowingly engaging in theft, hoping
that most companies and people won't know it's actually been
Posted by blmlwd (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
wrong on so many levels
... it's almost comedic.

First off if you steal your neighbors stuff, they don't have it anymore. When a video is on youtube, the owner still has the video as well.

Secondly, users upload videos to youtube, so to go with your analogy, it would be like some unknown third party making a copy of your neighbors stuff then giving it to you.

The only thing youtube is knowingly engaging in is hosting videos from unkown third party sources.
Posted by databyss (20 comments )
Link Flag
and theres more
What's more is that when notified of a copyright problem, youtube is overly proactive in removing that content immediately... even to the point of removing legitimate content.

viacom has used this method plenty of times to their approval, so it'll be hard for them to claim that now, all of a sudden, youtube is engaging in blatant copyright infringement.
Posted by databyss (20 comments )
Link Flag
Free advertistment
Try to give Viacom free advertisement and what happens? You get sued for it. The cost of the ad is probably into the $100000 but over 1.5 billion that had seen the ad and the cost per person dropped into the pennies. Why stop it? However, its fine with me. I haven't seen the Ad nor do I know what they are selling. I guest I won't know... haha, I won't be buying anything from Viacom.
Posted by The Vanish (10 comments )
Reply Link Flag
"Viacom's efforts to disguise its promotional use of YouTube worked so well that even its own employees could not keep track of everything it was posting or leaving up on the site," "As a result, on countless occasions Viacom demanded the removal of clips that it had uploaded to YouTube, only to return later to sheepishly ask for their reinstatement."

Youtube wrote that in a recent blog. and guess what? Viacom is suing for some of THOSE clips that THEY put up because they cannot keep track of which ones are theirs.
They are advertising on YouTube without even acknowledging it as an advertisement.
In addition, Viacom has taken down over 300,000 videos for "copy-right infringement" when some videos (especially pre-2007), weren't infringing anything and were under rightful usage, such as mixes.

And even worse, Viacom may even begin SUING the people who made the videos themselves! And when a majority of Youtube's community is under 20, that is a huge problem.

Viacom needs to back off.
Posted by Emmehzz (1 comment )
Link Flag
You tube is great when they want to hock their hokey wares for free but don't want anyone else to do put what they LIKE on you tube to share. I don't understand why we have to police everybody. How the hell are we to have an open expression free site when someone is always having to work at controlling everyone.
Posted by Phil_Canyon (8 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Viacom European SS units
Viacom need spend more time taken care of problems in China(china shops) and Russia(dollar stores). Going after the people who make and sell thousands of copies and less the little guy who only expressing him or herself
Making thousands of programmers and engineers Robin hood will only bring about your down fall.And add to fare use debate. Viacom is fighting their drug copyright war and this will be lost.
Posted by cohaver (189 comments )
Reply Link Flag
No surprise...
At the time of Google's purchase, numerous analysts pointed out that YouTube was a copyright lawsuit waiting to happen.
Posted by john55440 (1020 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Easy Fix
Before posting any video clip, YouTube should warn end users of the legal and financial ramifications of posting copyrighted material. If the end user accepts the terms of use, then the financial burden should fall on them and not the service provider (YouTube). YouTube would be obligated to reveal the identity of the violator to the copyright holder as part of end user accepting the terms of use.
Posted by fxjamusa (36 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I believe...
it already works that way. There is a warning, and technically YouTube is not responsible. The problem is that Viacom is not wanting to find the infringing content.
Posted by umbrae (1073 comments )
Link Flag
I believe that YouTube will slide out of responsibility by hiding behind the provision that they police and remove copyrighted material when it is discovered. However, if the fat cats threaten the users, the infringement will stop or at least drastically reduce to a manageable pace making it easier to police. In the end, neither YouTube or Google really care what happens. The founders of YouTube have their money, Google can shut it down and claim a tax loss but at the end of the day, they are all still billionaires.
Posted by kjledoux (6 comments )
Link Flag
To Viacom....
You would not be incurring any fees if YOU JUST LEFT PEOPLE ALONE! Who care that someone posted a 5 min clip of your shows? Its called "FREE ADVERTISING".
Posted by umbrae (1073 comments )
Reply Link Flag
To YouTube...
Take your crappy amateur cliplets and your copyright violations and cram them. Here's the real test of what you're worth: would anybody actually pay for a YouTube subscription?
Posted by extinctone (214 comments )
Link Flag
Posted by trueview (29 comments )
Reply Link Flag
To the geniuses at Viacom: Grow the @#$! up! No one can control the Internet, especially in the way media content used to be controllable before the digital age. Not even a multi-billion dollar corporation like you. Not even a corporately biased government like the one we currently have in Washington.

Suppose Viacom won all their terms and You tube was shut down. Well guess what folks -- the Internet moves on with or without YouTube, and media pirates will find a new home to collaborate all their stashes with each other and you can rest assured someone somewhere will find a way to profit off it. And worse yet, after all this litigation time, money, and other resources are wasted, and absolutely nothing has been accomplished.

While it can be said that the Internet has largely taken intellectual property hostage, such is the reality of the information age. Whether or not it has been intentionally designed that way is debatable, but one thing is for sure: we're all going to have to adapt to it eventually.
Posted by phantomsoul (50 comments )
Reply Link Flag
What took this so long !
I am in favor of user generated content but then there has got to be better way of monitoring and sharing it without copyright problems.
YouTube should have been sued long time back so that that process would have started much earlier.
Posted by csg7 (81 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Simply using "copyrighted material" DOES NOT, always, "violate copyright".
First... "copyright" was supposed to serve "society", at large, by temporarily protecting a small-set of, so-called, "intellectual properties". It was NOT created to hand, nearly-absolute, power to a few mega-corporations... at the expense of nearly everyone else.

It is only thanks to extremely recent changes in the United States 200+ year-old copyright-laws... that EVERYTHING is now AUTOMATICALLY copyrighted. Before that, only those items that were, specifically, intentionally copyrighted were locked-away from general public-use, for any length of time, at all.

Additionally, originally, copyright was only supposed to last about 7-years. Again, it was only fairly recently, that the amount of time that a copyright lasts... has actually been extended to a period, literally, longer than any, current American... will live.

Also, ONLY unique-works, in their general entirety, were supposed to be protected by "copyright"... "Clips", "excerpts", and "parodies" were, and still are, supposed to be specifically exempted... by LAW.

And "copyright", by the original concept of those that created it, was supposed to be a civil-matter. Whereby, it IS the copyright-holders responsibility, no one elses, to protect THEIR copyright-interests. That too, was only recently changed, at the Federal-level.

And finally, so-called "common-carriers" WERE "exempt"... right up until "Sony Betamax" was, effectively, completely-overturned... after nearly twenty years of lobbying, manipulation, and pay-offs, by the entertainment-industry. Even now, defenders of the "DMCA" continually tout the, clearly-illusory "safe harbor" provisions. However, it HAS been PROVEN, time and again, that these, alleged, "protections" are, in reality, nothing more than a BOGUS-SHAM.

Now, certain big-money interests would have you believe that, literally, every-single -burble- which arises from the depths of their clearly insanely-greedy, and wholly-corrupt, guts... is, for some indefinable reason, ABSOLUTELY THEIRS... FOREVER... Further, they actually demand that every American accept that, in order to preserve civilization as we know it, it is ABSOLUTELY EVERYONE ELSES night-and-day responsibility to actively prevent anyone from, so much as even thinking about, "violating" their WILDEST FANTASIES of virtually ROYAL-OWNERSHIP of "art" and "information".

Frankly, in my opinion, the "pendulum" of, so-called, "intellectual-property" law hasnt simply swung too far. It has actually swung so far... that the weight has flown-off... rolled across the floor... and dropped, almost irretrievably, down the grate.

Or, maybe, I maybe Im just completely-wrong in thinking that we should, as a nation, try to balance the WHIMS of business, with the RIGHTS of the citizens...

Silly me...
Posted by Had_to_be_said (384 comments )
Reply Link Flag
First impression ... ***!?
Posted by Thomas, David (1947 comments )
Link Flag
Let me try again
You COMPLETELY TWISTED the purpose of a copyright to one of
protection for the author, to some bull--it --ck-me statement that
whatever an author produces is owned by anyone BUT the author.

I really hate people like you. Create your own ---ng content from
now on.
Posted by Thomas, David (1947 comments )
Link Flag
Really Sad
It just shows that all these stupid big companies are out for is money. They're not there for the people, just for their pockets and will go to anylow to make them bigger. It'd really suck for them if they got youtube shut down and all the users got Peed and boycotted them....Like that'll ever happen lol
Posted by erixgirl86 (8 comments )
Reply Link Flag
A prime example of the dumbassification of America
Boycott what?!? So what are you going to do, stop watching Comedy Central and the rest of Viacom's cable networks? (I mean this is CNET, so I know aint none o' you folks watching BET) What will you supplement them with? Movies perhaps? Oops! Viacom distributes those too. The fact is, the demographic of the American that is biggest part of the YouTube audience is also the most naive, lazy and soft segment of th population. THat is, they are the least likely of all Americans to successfully boycott anything, from farting in public to gadzooks! a full blown boycott of a multinational media conglomerate -- all this in the age of 24/7 media consumption. Dumbassification indeed!
Posted by kribor (32 comments )
Link Flag
Re: Really Sad
Well, you're right when you say "Like that'll ever happen". It
won't. People won't boycott either company and in the case of
Viacom, why should they? Google is showing their video without
paying for it.

And the truth of the matter is that if content companies go after
individuals who download "music", why should Google be
exempt when they're actually using the content in money
making website, unlike the majority of ordinary people who have
downloaded music?

Personally, I say go at them in full force and nail them to the
wall. Unfortunately, I'm sure Viacom will somehow let it go, or
it'll be some stupid Viacom-Google deal that'll go pretty much
nowhere (kind of like the Google-Sun deal?).

Charles R. Whealton
Charles Whealton @
Posted by chuck_whealton (521 comments )
Link Flag
To Viacom.....
...... GET A GRIP and back off morons.
Posted by robertz1200 (9 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Copyright, Copywrong
Copyright has nothing to do with it. Viacom doesn't make money by showing TV shows. They make money from the ad space they sell to advertisers. Clips on youtube have no comercials, so no one buys anything, which means no ad money for Viacom.

Viacom should just have youtube insert their ads back into each of the clips so they can continue to charge advertisers. Does it matter if they see the clip on tv or on the web? So long as the ads are there, they'll get their advertising done and their ad revenue.
Posted by thedreaming (573 comments )
Reply Link Flag
This is not about Viacom or Google or YouTube it is about the Artist
I am disturbed by most of the threads I am reading here because everyone is focusing on either Viacom or Google. The people getting hurt here are the artists who are signed to labels but are not getting paid squat because the label has put all of their money behind the newest Brittney Spears. Therefore, their young alternative artist is still doing their own bookings, cannot keep a consistent job because they have to tour with some big name artist at $500.00/show and still feed themselves in the process. Yep their record is out there and they have a good following of loyal fans all who think they are going to help the artist out by putting their music over some stupid video clip of their dog licking it's butt. Give me a break! No one is going to track down the producer of this video demanding who the artist is providing the music soundtrack so they can rush out and buy the record. They are going to laugh their ass off and then go on to the next stupid video.
Posted by kjledoux (6 comments )
Link Flag
Sad, wrong headed thinking in my opinion. Seeing clips from features is like free advertising, and if something is getting tons of hits make the complete product available for sale. Isn't this how advertising is done? They aren't really losing any money with what happens on Youtube but they may alienate potential future buyers or viewers. Watching repeats of commercials hurts who? Greed is clouding their vision.
Posted by bergrrt (14 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Advertising promotions are measurable. You release a campaign, then you measure the results (in this case, television viewer ratings). Nobody can tell you if these pirated YouTube clips have had any impact on television viewer ratings. Calling this "free advertising" is completely idiotic.
Posted by fcekuahd (244 comments )
Link Flag
Free Advertising?
With all do respect, you do not know anything about marketing and advertising. Advertising focuses on branding. Show me a video created by Joe Blow that provides the courtesy of putting an artists name, album title, song title, film credits etc...then show me the metrics which reveal how the video by Joe Blow contributed to X $ of sales in which demographic locations, household income, number of children so that the artist can take this information and ensure that their next record appeals to their target market.
Posted by kjledoux (6 comments )
Link Flag
Let's try some thing new...
We all knew this fight was going to get official. while both Viacom and Google are media giants in their own ways, only the latter has stepped up for its users in the past. Do you have any facts or views to add? Write a line or share a detailed analysis...both will help. Now's the time to speak, and here's the place: <a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>
Posted by avsb1 (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Video humor
Video humor about Sumner Redstone and YouTube at
Posted by wallstreetfreethinker (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Viacom is wrong!
If YouTube were allowing feature length movies to be shown, it would be a problem, but I have only seen snippets of films that act as sort of an amateur teaser/trailor..this can only spark my interest in paying to see the full motion picture. As for shows, there are some shows that I can download in parts..usually, I just watch shows that have gone off the air such as "That's My Bush" or "Crayon ShinChan". These episodes keep the memories of these shows alive, so if they are ever rebroadcast, we will tune in. I would much rather watch a program on television, than on my computer..Anyway, I also like YouTube for the home videos, and music videos of both established and up-and-coming artists..I still watch Fuse and MTV2 for videos, but I like the control that YouTube gives me. I really hope Viacom loses big in this lawsuit, both financially and through the horrible public relations that this has generated for them..other companies are using YouTube to deliver professional trailors/teasers of their films - it is a great advertising outlet, but Viacom would rather make money with a frivilous lawsuit against YouTube than use them as the great marketing/promotional tool that they are..
Posted by dollpenguin (9 comments )
Reply Link Flag

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