Marketplace Scratch Pad

Viacom vs YouTube

Scott Jagow Mar 19, 2010

If you don’t believe the Internet is still the Wild West, get a load of the court documents unsealed in the Viacom lawsuit against YouTube. Man, those two fight dirty.

Viacom has apparently collected a stash of incriminating YouTube emails regarding the posting of copyrighted material. Read more here, but a sampling of the damning evidence:

• In a July 29, 2005 email about competing video websites, YouTube co-founder Steve Chen wrote to YouTube co-founders Chad Hurley and Jawed Karim, “steal it!”, and Chad Hurley responded: “hmm, steal the movies?” Steve Chen replìed: “we have to keep in mind that we need to attract traffic. how much traffic will we get from personal videos? remember, the only reason why our traffic surged was due to a video of this type…. viral videos will tend to be THOSE type of videos.”

• In a July 19, 2005 email to YouTube co-founders Chad Hurley and Jawed Karim, YouTube co-founder Steve Chen wrote: “jawed, please stop putting stolen videos on the site. We’re going to have a tough time defending the fact that we’re not liable for the copyrighted material on the site because we didn’t put it up when one of the co-founders is blatantly stealìng content from other sites and trying to get everyone to see it.”

• In an April 23, 2005 email to YouTube cofounders Steve Chen and Chad Hurley, YouTube co-founder Jawed Karim wrote: “It’s all ’bout da videos, yo. We’ll be an excellent acquisition target once we’re huge.”

Karim was right about that, which is why YouTube’s parent Google now must defend itself in court. And oh, Google has some dirt on Viacom, too:

“[Viacom] hired no fewer than 18 different marketing agencies to upload its content to the site. It deliberately ‘roughed up’ the videos to make them look stolen or leaked. It opened YouTube accounts using phony e-mail addresses. It even sent employees to Kinko’s to upload clips from computers that couldn’t be traced to Viacom,” Levine (YouTube’s chief counsel) wrote.

In other words, Viacom wanted its videos on YouTube, just not “officially.”

YouTube basically says that what Viacom is seeking would kill the Internet — a rule that requires all websites to police all user-uploaded content for copyright infringement. Get it right or face “crushing liabilities”.

Here’s part of Viacom’s statement:

Google bought YouTube because it was a haven of infringement. Google knew that YouTube’s popularity depended on infringing materials with several senior Google executives warning that YouTube was a “rogue enabler of content theft.” Instead of complying with the law, Google willfully and knowingly chose to continue YouTube’s illegal practices…

The law is clear that Google and YouTube are liable for their infringement. The Supreme Court unanimously held in Grokster that a service that intends infringement is liable for that infringement. No case has ever suggested that the DMCA immunizes rampant intentional infringement of the sort Google and YouTube have engaged in.

Where do you come down on this one?

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