NEW YORK--Bob Tur, the Los Angeles broadcast journalist whose company sued YouTube in 2006 over a copyright complaint, has been accused by Google-employed lawyers of leaking confidential court documents related to the depositions of YouTube and Google executives in a longstanding battle with Viacom over pirated content.
In a hearing Friday in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, attorney Andrew Schapiro of the law firm Mayer Brown cited circumstantial evidence that he claimed pinpoints Tur as the source of documents leaked to CNET's Greg Sandoval. Those documents included a deposition on behalf of Google CEO Eric Schmidt, which led to the revelation that Google knew it had overpaid for YouTube, which it acquired in late 2006.
Schapiro, an external counsel for YouTube and its parent company Google, ran through a list of telephone calls and e-mails from last fall that he says provide evidence of communication with Sandoval. When Tur finally turned over his computer to a forensics team, Schapiro said, its hard drive had been wiped clean in a 7-pass wipe, an action that Tur said was unrelated as the computer was having its system restored so that it could be given to his daughter.
"If all of these things are coincidence, then Bob Tur is the unluckiest man in the world," Schapiro related to Judge Louis Stanton. "The circumstantial evidence in this case and the inferences to be drawn from it are overwhelming."
Stanton said that he would like to see the fresh dispute go in front of a jury as a separate trial, which he expects will be resolved in a "short and simple" manner, but that "it's got to be dealt with."
The YouTube counsel originally pinpointed Tur as the source of the documents late last year, and on December 23 sent a letter to the court--the contents of which have been kept confidential--requesting the investigation into his role.
Tur was personally represented by Los Angeles attorney Seymour Fagan, who said in a January memo to the court that he "was selected because I have known Mr. Tur since he was a child and for more than 30 years have represented and counseled him during his illustrious, courageous and frequently awarded career."
According to Fagan in Friday's hearing, the circumstantial evidence cited by Schapiro is not sufficient. "If Mr. Tur had sent that transcript to Mr. Sandoval, his [digital] fingerprint would be there" even though the hard drive had been wiped, Fagan said. "Anyone with any knowledge of technology would know that with e-mail there is no way to hide."
Fagan accused Google's counsel of "hiding the real issues" and "breathing smoke where no fire exists." In addition, the January memo claims that Fagan was with Tur around the time in September that the leak would have taken place.
Judge Stanton, meanwhile, questioned Fagan's close personal relationship with Tur and also his offering of an alibi in the case. "Fagan is clearly a character witness and also a fact witness," Stanton said in the hearing. "Usually, in this court, we do not have a lawyer in the role of both witness and counsel."
Los Angeles News Service, the company that Tur founded with his then-wife Marika Gerrard, first sued YouTube in 2006, prior to its acquisition by Google--the first party to sue YouTube over copyright complaints. The following year, Tur's suit joined a proposed class action suit led by England's Premiere Soccer League. On Tuesday, the plaintiffs requested an extension in their time to file a motion for class certification.
If Tur, who became famous for his use of a helicopter in high-profile breaking news like the O.J. Simpson car chase in 1994, was responsible for the document leak that revealed Schmidt's deposition, it would have been a violation of the protective order that he was under as part of the pending class action suit. But his counsel insisted that he would have no reason to make that risky move, and that Google's counsel is effectively bullying him.
Fagan's original memo to the court claimed that he had "no motivation" to violate that protective order, and that "punishing Mr. Tur for filing the first copyright infringement against YouTube, which encouraged others to do so, by having him sanctioned for eliminating his substantial claims for copyright infringement is the real prize for them."
A correction was made at 9:21 a.m. PT on March 27: The name Fagan and Schapiro had been accidentally swapped in the attribution of a quote.