Viacom Sues YouTube with a Sweet Smile

Last month, Viacom amended a lawsuit that it filed against Google-owned YouTube one year ago, citing the Web site’s “inability to keep copyrighted material off its site.”
Viacom, a media conglomerate with various worldwide interests in cable and satellite television (MTV and BET) and movie production (Paramount Pictures and DreamWorks), claims it has identified over 150,000 unauthorized video clips on the site. Court documents quote Google’s lawyers as saying that the action “threatens the way hundreds of millions of people legitimately exchange information” over the Internet, and for good reason.
If you don’t know what YouTube is by now then you either live in a cave or North Korea. The popular video site is visited by millions upon millions of users every day looking for music videos, news reports, riot recordings and just about anything imaginable. Google and YouTube claim they “[go] far beyond [their] legal obligations in assisting content owners to protect their works” by removing any content that infringes copyrights. However, Viacom rejected the claim and said that they had not lived up to that standard and did “little or nothing” to stop infringement. In response, YouTube implemented an anti-piracy tool that checks uploaded videos against the original content in an effort to prevent piracy.
As a college-aged American, I’ve visited my fair share of mirror sites looking for video clips of TV shows. Yet, I’ve noticed that nearly all the links that lead to YouTube end up leading to a message that notifies me that the video has been taken down because it violates the “terms of agreement.” So it seems YouTube has been doing its job just fine.
Regardless, Viacom is asking for damages for the unauthorized viewing of its content and says its tally represents only a small fraction of the content on YouTube that violates its copyrights.
Viacom’s chairman, Sumner Redstone, said, “We cannot tolerate any form of piracy by anyone, including YouTube … they cannot get away with stealing our products.”
What Redstone forgets is that YouTube does not choose what is uploaded to its site; the cornerstone of the Web site is its vast community of users uploading funny videos and flaming each other in the comment boxes.
Aside from that, YouTube does its job in removing pirated content. In a simplified summary, you have two parties: Mr. Redstone, chairman of a company “violated” by YouTube and out for cash, and you have me, the standard YouTube user, someone who’s used the site enough to understand its user community and how YouTube runs its site. Over the course of my YouTube days, I’ve seen YouTube take down tons of videos, so Viacom’s claim that it does nothing is really baseless.
Don’t take my word for it though. This is college after all and YouTube users run rampant on our campus. Marianne Conner, a third-year information and computer science major, said, “I always get seriously rebuffed when I look for TV shows on YouTube these days, but I can find any music video I want. I do think YouTube is pretty timely about removing pirated videos … but if music videos count [as piracy] then they are not doing so hot in that respect.”
Adib Towfiq, a third-year physics major, expressed similar sentiments.
“I think YouTube does a good job of flagging all videos which are copyrighted, but I also think all these little clips being on YouTube is a good thing for companies like Viacom … it’s like free advertisement. The Internet will always be free, so shutting down YouTube will really have no impact on piracy and copyright infringement,” Towfiq said. If you ask me, Viacom’s lawsuit is nothing more than a mad cash grab.
“When we filed this lawsuit, we not only served our own interests, we served the interests of everyone who owns copyrights they want protected,” Summer Redstone once said.
How admirable of you, Mr. Redstone. And I’m sure the fact that millions of dollars may be in it for you has nothing to do with it. You’re acting solely on behalf of all the poor multi-million dollar companies wronged by YouTube, right? Viacom’s latest decision seems to embody one defining factor of the modern world: anything is fair game for expensive lawsuits and politically correct anger.

AE Anteater is a third-year English major. He can be reached at emailremoved@uci.edu.