How should Google defend against Viacom?

March 13, 2007: Viacom serves Google and YouTube with a $1 billion federal lawsuit for disregard of intellectual property laws. Viacom claims that over 150,000 clips of its content are on YouTube and have been watched 1.5 bn times.

What if many of these same people were also Viacom’s customers? Is Viacom also suing its customers for straying away? This debate was expected to happen anyway, and it has started off now.

The stakes are high, and in the ring are two of the top players from old media and new media, both with deep pockets and lots of resources, but only one of them has the support of its users. Google. But does that count at all? Well, it depends on the numbers who come forward to speak and the facts and arguments we present.

Viacom’s says, “YouTube has failed to employ reasonable measures that could substantially reduce, or eliminate, the massive amount of copyright infringement on the YouTube site from which YouTube directly profits.” And Google maintains that YouTube has respected the legal rights of copyright holders, and that a vast majority of the content on Youtube is user-generated.

References:

1. Scanned page 1 and 2 of the lawsuit
http://news.findlaw.com/hdocs/docs/google/viacomyoutube31307cmp.html

2. News.com article
http://news.com.com/2100-1028-6166862.html

3. Eweek’s list of points that defence has to answer.
http://googlewatch.eweek.com/content/youtube/18_reasons_why_google_and_youtube_are_guilty_of_copyright_infringement.html

This case will test the judicial system. In most countries, including the US, the laws trail behind the times, and the interpretation of the judges will play a key role.

We all expected this fight to happen, but what I had not realized was the opportunity to use Blogger to discuss views with hundreds of other users and see if a strong argument emerges.

Some of the questions that need answers are:

1(a). Exactly which of Viacom’s products (channels) are present in the largest number on Youtube?

1(b). Which of these products(channels) are also available for free elsewhere on the Internet?

2(a). How many people saw Viacom’s products (channels) after seeing a clip on Youtube?

2(b). Is there a way to establish this reverse traffic: from Youtube/Google to Viacom’s channels ?

3(a). How many of the 150,000 clips of content were short-clips that showed only a brief part of the whole topic? (a clip of a few seconds or minutes that shows an interesting part can also be seen as advertisement that actually adds viewership to Viacom’s channels)

3(b). How many of these 150,000 clips are full length material? This subset is the strongest part of Viacom’s case, and poses the biggest threat to defence.

3(c). How many times were clips of 3(b) watched? If this a small percent of 1.5bn views, then that’s a strong defence.

4(a). What kind of agreements did a few other media companies reach with Google on this topic, and could that agreement not apply in this case?

4(b). What are the specifics of Viacom’s agreement with Joost, which is also supposed to be ‘user generated content’?

If we all can create something meaningful here, it would be a first of its kind, where the users directly contributed to the defence. A path breaking company deserves that support. Let’s give it a try…we are the final beneficiaries.

Thanks,
Shankar

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