Judges Watching You Watching YouTube

Dennis Faas's picture

The 'Security vs Privacy' debate is raging again after a court recently ordered Google to hand its entire YouTube records over to Viacom. The order, from the US District Court in Southern New York, comes as part of an ongoing billion dollar lawsuit that the media giant (which owns MTV and Nickelodeon among others) filed over copyrighted material on the video site.

The suit claims that Viacom has lost revenue thanks to the infringement, while Google has boosted its advertising take.

The heart of the case is Google's position that it doesn't -- and practically couldn't -- vet clips that users upload, and instead removes any clips it gets a complaint about. They say that's a reasonable stance, while Viacom charges that this policy means they get benefits from the illegal clips without taking any responsibility.

As part of the suit, Viacom demanded Google hand over its entire records so that lawyers could work out exactly how many Viacom-owned clips have appeared on the site. They believe it will boost their case significantly if it turns out people are more likely to view copyrighted videos than legit clips. Google said this was unfair because it would be too expensive, take too long, and violate individual users' privacy.

The judge in the case ruled that the first two points weren't a reasonable defence because even the massive database involved would fit on a few commercially-available hard drives (which Viacom even offered to buy themselves). He also pointed out that it would be up to Viacom's side to do the hard work of processing and analysing the data.

The court also decided there was no danger of privacy violations because an IP address on its own wasn't enough to identify someone. Indeed, they even quoted a Google corporate post making that very argument. Privacy advocates have said this misses the point because some people may have selected user names on the site which can give away their details. (Source: thisdayonline.com)

Viacom didn't get everything they asked for though: they won't get any of the source code used on the site, details of Google's advertising set-up, or access to any videos marked as private by users.

There's no telling what happens next. Google will almost certainly consider taking the case to appeal. If it does eventually hand over the details, YouTube users may take action against Google for breaching their privacy. (Source: yahoo.com)

There is even the possibility that Viacom might use the details to identify and sue individuals who've uploaded copyrighted material. However, that probably won't affect the average user: the firm would likely target those who'd uploaded the most clips (or at least those were easiest to find). And while Viacom could sue for its own lost revenue, they'd have a tough time proving YouTube users have personally profited from the infringement.

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