May 8, 2007 4:00 AM PDT

Journalist at center of YouTube case

Robert Tur once piloted a helicopter in 55-mile-an-hour winds to rescue people stranded in a hotel that was being battered by towering surf. If he can tackle that, he asks, why would he be afraid of Google?

Still, the Los Angeles-based journalist who filed a copyright infringement suit against YouTube in July--before the video-sharing site was acquired by Google--admits that nobody looks forward to a legal tussle with a $145 billion company.

"When I filed this thing, I was going after a couple of guys operating over a pizza kitchen," Tur said, referring to YouTube co-founders Steve Chen and Chad Hurley, whose headquarters were once located over a pizza parlor. "I didn't believe they would have the resources to launch an offensive like the one they have now. They have the backing of one of the world's most powerful companies."

Because the chopper-piloting journalist was the first to sue YouTube for copyright infringement, he is at the center of legal wrangling among behemoth corporate powers Viacom, NBC Universal and Google. The outcome of Tur's case could affect large media conglomerates that have filed their own claims against YouTube. Sources have said that NBC Universal and Viacom are worried.

Robert Tur
Credit: Robert Tur
Journalist Robert Tur at the controls
of a helicopter.

In a friends-of-the-court brief filed Friday, Viacom and NBC Universal asked a U.S. District Court judge in Los Angeles to deny a motion filed by Google to dismiss Tur's suit.

"Any ruling on YouTube's motion will have far-reaching ramifications for the owners of video content," attorney Russell Frackman wrote in a court document on behalf of Viacom and NBC Universal.

YouTube has for a long time argued that it is protected from liability under the safe harbor provision of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Under the provision, service providers that host other people's content are "safe" from liability if they quickly remove material a content owner alleges infringes on their copyright.

"These suits simply misunderstand the (DMCA), which balances the rights of copyright holders against the need to protect Internet communications," Kent Walker, Google's general counsel, said in an e-mail Sunday. "As a result, they threaten the way people legitimately exchange information."

Media conglomerate Viacom filed a $1 billion complaint against YouTube in March and England's premiere soccer league accused the company in a lawsuit filed Friday of massive copyright violations. The companies want YouTube to take responsibility for the hundreds of pirated video clips that users post to the site every day.

"It's not about pride or being stubborn. My heart is in the right place. For copyright holders, this is our livelihood."
--Robert Tur, journalist suing YouTube

In his lawsuit, Tur has accused YouTube of infringing on his copyrighted material by posting without his permission video he shot during the 1992 Los Angeles riots.

NBC Universal and Viacom rushed to Tur's aid because they fear that Google will win important legal points that could hobble copyright holders against YouTube, said sources close to both companies.

In their legal brief, Viacom and NBC Universal both supported Tur's legal assertions while also asking the judge to consider that Tur's situation was very different from their own.

"(Viacom and NBC Universal) request that the court consider that its works are more popular, more commercial, and far more numerous than Tur's," wrote Frackman, of the law firm Mitchell, Silberberg & Knupp. "They comprise a significant portion of the infringing works contained on YouTube, viewed billions of times, and are among the most-viewed and highest-rated videos on YouTube."

In an interview Sunday night, Tur ticked off all of Google's advantages. He points out Google is represented by attorneys from Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, arguably Silicon Valley's most prestigious firm.

"All I have is myself and my attorney (Francis Pizzulli)," Tur said.

But Tur isn't known for being weak-kneed. On the contrary, for 25 years he was known as one of Los Angeles' most swashbuckling helicopter pilots.

He recorded O.J. Simpson's Bronco chase as well as the 1992 Los Angeles riots. His name appeared in gossip columns when he was the boyfriend of actress-writer Carrie Fisher.

He also has made a name for himself for being quick to litigate any time he believed his copyright was being threatened. He has sued Reuters, CBS (multiple times) and others that he claimed violated his rights.

"I'm not a person who cuts and runs," he said. Yet, he said that if Viacom were to come to him and make the case that by keeping his lawsuit alive he is harming other content holders, "I would stand down."

"It's not about pride or being stubborn," Tur said. "My heart is in the right place. For copyright holders, this is our livelihood. We lose money when we can't protect our property. But if they convince me that it's better that I step aside, that's what I will do."

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Viacom Inc., copyright holder, journalist, YouTube, Los Angeles

20 comments

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Fatally Flawed
Since Youtube is nothing more than a library for user provided content Youtube should be safe from infringment lawsuites.

In other words, only the infringers should be liable. The law is flawed.
Posted by Renegade Knight (13748 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Wrong
The ones making tons of money because they act as facilitator to access copyrighted work are liable. They are liable twice: because they facilitate robbery and slow down internet with video streamming for their own benefit!!
Posted by minoal (7 comments )
Link Flag
Time to revise copyright laws
Copyright law needs to change to adapt to the practical realities of Web 2.0, the way that music has had to adapt to digital downloading and use. The biggest losers in the marketplace are the holdouts like, , who can't adapt and change. The amount of money holdouts stand to make while fighting for their outdated property rights, is is nothing compared to the amount of money innovators and early adapters will make. Losers sue, winners adapt and change to the new paradigm.
Posted by Xenu7-214951314497503184010868 (153 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Nope.
The time is to revise and re-educate those who wish to promote the theft of material.

At the same time, the record companies need to be reminded of their rights and the right of those who purchase recordings. (We have the right to make copies of works that we purchased.)
Posted by dargon19888 (412 comments )
Link Flag
Why didn't he simply claim his content?
This journalist could have claimed copyright directly at the site and the content would have been removed, as per DMCA rules.

However, he instead opted to sue. A more costly endeavor with much less likely outcome.

Similarly, but perhaps more wisely, Viacom chooses to compete with the likes of YouTube by filing lawsuits and chooses not to remove its copyrighted material from YouTube, even though a very simple process for large media companies exist.

YouTube contains a lot of original material of people filming their friends. It does not allow more than 10 min video and hardly any Viacom content falls under 10 min.

Viacom's intent is to weaken the leader in online videos, as it is a threat to their own questionable future.
Posted by AbuLafya (86 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Viacom refuses to use DMCA Takedown Procedure
As stated in the comment "Similarly, but perhaps more wisely, Viacom chooses to compete with the likes of YouTube by filing lawsuits and chooses not to remove its copyrighted material from YouTube, even though a very simple process for large media companies exist.". They want YouTube to do the spotting of material that MIGHT infringe on a ViaCom copyright instead of following the DMCA rules that say it is ViaCom's job to spot the content and to inform YouTube of it (at which point YouTube must take it down). A blanket "There is infringing material - Find it for use and take it down" claim by ViaCom is not playing by the rules and is the cause of the Law Suit when YouTube told them to shove it and to tell them what was to be removed ITEM-by-ITEM if they claimed to have a gripe about their stuff being posted.
Posted by rarpsl (34 comments )
Link Flag
Victimhood
I'm usually for the underdog but I find it really hard to sympathise with the plaintiff here.

He thought he was going to hammer two guys over a pizza parlor and now he's looking at an 800-lb. gorilla ... a King Kong not with a girl in his paw but a fistful of lawyers and $$$ ... it is to laugh.

As a published writer, I have to say that copyright is about [a] money and [b] attribution, being known as the 'author' whether book, magazine article or video. A fifteen-year-old video is ancient history to the Now Generation and I have no doubt he made his bucks when the item was current events.

I'd be willing to bet when he sold the video to a TV station the first time, the contract fine print very likely said they were buying 'all rights'.

Way back when, a writer could sell 'first rights' to an article, for example, and 'secondary rights' multiple times to different markets. Then the suits wised up.
Posted by NoVista (274 comments )
Reply Link Flag
only a test
as I discovered something about formatting [b]by accident [b] by trying [/b]
use of square brackets in quick comments
hmmm following is [i] italics [/i] maybe
Posted by NoVista (274 comments )
Link Flag
What should happen
It shouldn't be up to the copyright holder to spend his entire life
trying to chase down evey site in the world that is hosting his
content illegally. What should be enforced are the existing laws
that prevent illegally uploading copyrighted content, and
unauthorized hosting of copyrighted content.

YouTube is wrong. They should be responsible for the content
they are serving to others. If they are making money off other
people's copyrighted works without permission that is just not
right.

There is no way a copyright holder can be responsible for
policing his content throughout the entire internet. It should be
policed but then again what is realistic? Even if YouTube stops,
there will be hundreds of new video sites to follow that you can't
stop. The scum that abuse other people's rights will keep on
doing it no matter what the law is.
Posted by Lucky Lou (88 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Yup
Google is severly exploiting the loophole. They built that business model of leveraging copyrighted content. Sure they remove it, but what's done is done.

I just feel it's like being the accomplice to theft - sure if they remove a video it's no longer available (unless someone reposts it). But the deed has been done and copyright violation has already taken place.

MySpace is trying to get on the right track with their new Take Down Stay Down software. At least it seems they're trying and making progress.
Posted by whodisbeyo (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
That's ridiculously unfair
So you think that it's easy to locate all the videos that are in violation? Viacom ordered for over 100,000 videos to be removed. You think you can just search 'viacom' and all the videos will show up?

Locating copyright infringement videos can be a hard task and it's unfair for Viacom to be forced to police this.

Can you compare this to Napster in a way? Viacom is kind of like the RIAA and them having to police and search for the illegal content. Napster back in the day was providing a way for people to swap illegal content.

Things will not work if you have this 'wash my hands clean' mentality. Google is providing a place for illegal content to be facilitated.
Posted by whodisbeyo (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Do not be evil?
Google has been promoting "do not be evil" as their corporate motto. However, they are the biggest thieves among all. Microsoft has monopoly which they created by stealing technology from may be 5-10 companies but Google is stealing from millions of creators in their blind run for $$$s. Why aren't wise people not making fuss about it? People like to watch cops running after and chasing down small thieves in downtowns around the country but they don't make a sound when here a large company is hiding behind their twisted logic. GooTube must loose for the sake of creativity.
Posted by niravabhavsar (74 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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