YouTube accuses Viacom of uploading infringing content

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Remember that court case from 2007 in which Viacom sued Google for $1 billion in damages for hosting infringing content on YouTube? As of Thursday morning, several legal documents from that billion dollar case have been unsealed. Now, there’re a few new twists to the case.

Citing safe harbor from the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) and the sheer difficulty of determining which users really do have the permission to post content on its service, YouTube’s Chief Counsel Zahavah Levine wrote a post on the official YouTube blog about Google’s defense. Then he fires off a clever snipe at “Viacom’s own practices” before going into details in the following paragraph.

Levine accuses Viacom of “continuously and secretly” uploading its own content to YouTube for years. While openly complaining about the presence of infringing, Viacom-owned video on YouTube, the media giant allegedly hired no fewer than 18 marketing firms to upload content on the video-sharing service. Levine even says that those firms added a handful of impurities to make the video look as though it were taken from a second-hand source. Then the firms would send out their employees to create anonymous YouTube accounts under fake e-mail addresses and upload videos from their local Kinko’s copy center.

The rest of the alleged escapades are a little more innocent and a little less cloak-and-dagger. Levine claims that “Viacom routinely left up clips from shows that had been uploaded to YouTube by ordinary users,” noting that the president of Comedy Central and the head of MTV Networks wanted clips from The Daily Show and The Colbert Report to stay on YouTube’s servers. Sometimes Viacom would even issue demands that its own videos should be taken down, only to admit that it had made a mistake.

YouTube also points out that Viacom “tried repeatedly” to buy YouTube despite having framed the site as a malevolent entity no different from Napster, Grokster, or The Pirate Bay.

Levine’s closing remarks promote YouTube’s own Content ID system, which allows content holders to scan videos and decide if they want to “block, leave up, or monetize” infringing content found on YouTube. Then Levine wraps up by stating YouTube and Google’s position on defending DMCA rights, technological progress, and freedom.

While there’s still no end in sight to Viacom’s billion-dollar case, it remains a fascinating struggle between traditional media, new media, and the methods by which each profits off the other. Whether or not Levine’s claims are true, three years on, Google shows no signs of backing down.

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