03 July 2008

Viacom vs Google

There's a fairly unbelievable ridiculous stunning typical case going through the courts right now. I saw it mentioned on other sites, but they focused on the vast privacy violations and generally sidelined the other impressively absurd parts of the lawsuit. Somehow Viacom has gotten it into its head that people occasionally post copyrighted videos on Youtube (Lies!). I read through the filing, it's impressive. For example in (4):

YouTube itself publicly performs the infringing videos on the YouTube site . . . It is YouTube that knowingly reproduces and publicly performs the copyrighted works

This is somewhat clever, and practically ubiquitous in these cases: abusing pre-Internet laws. When they say YouTube "performs the copyrighted works", we all know perfectly well what they mean: YouTube sits there while people stream off them. It's like saying my SMTP server performs recitations of my e-mails as I send them. Obviously that law was meant to forbid me setting up a projector and selling people tickets to watch videos I've bought, that's what "performing" a copyrighted work is. In case there's any doubt, they just come out and say it in (31):

YouTube then publicly performs the chosen video by sending streaming video content from YouTube's servers to the user's computer

Then Viacom complains because they're lazy (6):

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 and send notices to YouTube demanding that it "take down" the infringing works

Unbelievable, Google. What makes you think you can possibly shift the burden entirely onto copyright owners? Actually, they probably think that because of the DMCA. Yes, I was shocked too, but the DMCA actually does have a section buried in the middle entitled "Limitations on liability relating to material online". And in section 512, subsection d, bullet 3 (actually, pretty much every subsection of 512 is identical, this thing is absurdly redundant) it states that YouTube needs to, "upon notification of claimed infringement as described in subsection (c)(3), respond[] expeditiously to remove, or disable access to, the material that is claimed to be infringing". DMCA: fighting for the people.

The next couple pages is the always impressively boring plaintiff exposition, but in skimming it I noticed something that made me smile: they list some of the videos they disseminate online themselves, including:

"SpongeBob SquarePants," and "Dora the Explorer," among others, from Nickelodeon; and "Beavis and Butthead," "Laguna Beach," and "Jackass", among others, from MTV

I would love nothing more than to hear a $500/hour lawyer expounding about how Viacom has willingly given Dora the Explorer and Laguna Beach to the masses

And while Viacom demands catholicons for their problems (can you have more than one? oh well), I can understand their annoyance. But then I found the latest filing from yesterday, which actually manages to top the aforementioned bitching (legal term). This is the one where the judge responds to Viacom's demands, so it's a nice concise summary of what Viacom wants. For example, the logs of everything everyone has done on YouTube ever ("all data from the Logging database concerning each time a YouTube video has been viewed"). This is obviously crazy, except as the wired article points out, it was granted. Viacom and Google probably stared at the ruling with identical slack-jawed amazement. Viacom claims that this isn't a privacy violation, because (quoting a Google blog post) "an IP address without additional information cannot [identify you]". Technically true, although the "additional information" required is really just the date/time you were using it; that's sufficient for an ISP to pinpoint who was using it. And since the data Viacom is demanding includes "the time when the user started to watch the video", this claim is specious. But other site have already talked about that, this is the epic one:

The computer source code which controls both the YouTube.com search function and Google's internet search tool "Google.com"

...right. Viacom knows perfectly well it'll be a cold day in hell before Google gives them the source code to their search engine, so I'm not sure what their angle is here; maybe it's the patent insanity that's lead other sites to ignore this. I purport that Microsoft has intentionally rigged Windows to blue-screen periodically; can I have the source code now? But wait, they're not done yet:

Defendants have purposefully designed or modified the tool to facilitate the location of infringing content

They're not kidding, they claim Google has modified their search engine to intentionally favor copyrighted data. They've apparently forgotten about their earlier filing, when they accosted Google for doing the opposite:

YouTube has also implemented features that prevent copyright owners from finding infringing videos by searching the Youtube site. YouTube thereby hinders Plaintiffs' attempts to locate infringing videos to protect their rights

So either Google is intentionally helping people find copyrighted videos, or they're intentionally thwarting it -- either way, Viacom is pissed off. It's a bold move claiming that Google is making it harder for them to find copyrighted data by taking it down. Not that this thwarting has actually slowed Viacom down (3):

Plaintiffs have identified more than 150,000 unauthorized clips of their copyrighted programming on YouTube

Way to get around that Google blocking, Viacom. You showed 'em. Here's the judge's actual signature on the order to "compel production of all data from the Logging database", just so you can see it :):

BLAME! E-mail that guy and tell him he should learn how computers work before he makes rulings

EDIT: Wow. Speaking of abusing pre-Internet laws, it's like the government saw this post and wanted to show just how far it can go: a woman was charged with violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse act because she signed up for MySpace with a fake name. Viacom sounds downright competent now

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