YouTube faces first mega copyright suit

US media conglomerate Viacom files US$1 billion lawsuit against YouTube and Google for "massive intentional copyright infringement"; seeks an injunction.

Google and its online video subsidiary YouTube have been slapped with a US$1 billion lawsuit over alleged copyright infringement of content from Viacom's entertainment properties.

According to a statement released Wednesday by Viacom, a U.S. media conglomerate encompassing a range of renowned brands including MTV, Paramount Pictures and Dreamworks, the company has filed suit with the U.S. District Court in New York, seeking more than US$1 billion in damages over "massive intentional copyright infringement".

It contends that some 160,000 unauthorized clips of its programming have been viewed more than 1.5 billion times on YouTube, Viacom said in the statement. The company has also applied for an injunction to prevent Google and YouTube from further serving the infringing content on the popular video site.

Calling YouTube a "for-profit organization", Viacom blasted the site and its parent company Google for exploiting fans of content creators and cultivating an "unlawful business model" from building traffic and selling advertising based on unlicensed content.

"YouTube's strategy has been to avoid taking proactive steps to curtail the infringement on its site, thus generating significant traffic and revenues for itself while shifting the entire burden--and high cost--of monitoring YouTube onto the victims of its infringement."

With a demand of more than US$1 billion in damages, Viacom clearly wants Google and YouTube to now pay for that burden, describing the amount as "value that rightfully belongs" to its writers, directors and other talent.

The move marks Viacom as the first major media company to hit Google with a copyright infringement lawsuit, though industry observers have long anticipated lawsuits of this magnitude to hit Google after it acquired YouTube in October last year.

With its fourth-quarter revenue growth of 67 percent to US$3.2 billion, Google makes an attractive target for media companies that may want to follow in Viacom's footsteps.

The search giant had attempted to skirt copyright issues by persuading--and successfully--content producers to agree to feature their video content on YouTube.

Before filing its lawsuit, Viacom last month demanded YouTube remove over 100,000 pirated clips produced by Viacom's media networks.

It will be interesting to see if Google-YouTube will succeed in defending its case, especially since others such as Napster and Kazaa, had failed to do so.

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