Excerpts from Viacom's scathing YouTube complaint

Excerpts from Viacom's scathing YouTube complaint

Summary: Viacom filed a complaint against Google's YouTube and it isn't pretty. Whether Viacom is looking for leverage, a test of copyright law or the end of YouTube isn't exactly clear.


Viacom filed a complaint against Google's YouTube and it isn't pretty. Whether Viacom is looking for leverage, a test of copyright law or the end of YouTube isn't exactly clear.

One thing is certain: Viacom doesn't pull punches. GoogleWatch cooked up 18 reasons why Viacom is screaming about YouTube. The complaint that has everyone talking has many more than that.  

Here are some choice excerpts direct from the complaint (note the subheads are my interpretation of Viacom's claims):

YouTube as copyright killer (maybe economy too):

YouTube has harnessed technology to willfully infringe copyrights on a huge scale, depriving writers, composers and performers of the rewards they are owed for effort and innovation, reducing the incentives of America’s creative industries, and profiting from the illegal conduct of others as well. Using the leverage of the Internet, YouTube appropriates the value of creative content on a massive scale for YouTube’s benefit without payment or license. YouTube’s brazen disregard of the intellectual property laws fundamentally threatens not just Plaintiffs, but the economic underpinnings of one of the most important sectors of the United States economy.

Viacom on the neverending war:

YouTube’s website purports to be a forum for users to share their own original “user generated” video content. In reality, however, a vast amount of that content consists of infringing copies of Plaintiffs’ copyrighted works, including such popular (and obviously copyrighted) television programming and motion pictures as “SpongeBob SquarePants,” “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” “The Colbert Report,” “South Park,” “Ren & Stimpy,” “MTV Unplugged,” “An Inconvenient Truth,” “Mean Girls,” and many others. Unauthorized copies of these and other copyrighted works are posted daily on YouTube and each is viewed tens of thousands of times.

YouTube does infringement on purpose:

Defendants actively engage in, promote and induce this infringement. YouTube itself publicly performs the infringing videos on the YouTube site and other websites. Thus, YouTube does not simply enable massive infringement by its users. It is YouTube that knowingly reproduces and publicly performs the copyrighted works uploaded to its site.

YouTube has benefited greatly (Duh: $1.65 billion smackaroos!):

Defendants know and intend that a substantial amount of the content on the YouTube site consists of unlicensed infringing copies of copyrighted works and have done little or nothing to prevent this massive infringement. To the contrary, the availability on the YouTube site of a vast library of the copyrighted works of Plaintiffs and others is the cornerstone of Defendants’ business plan.

YouTube puts the burden of proof on copyright owners:

YouTube has deliberately chosen not to take reasonable precautions to deter the rampant infringement on its site. Because YouTube directly profits from the availability of popular infringing works on its site, it has decided to shift the burden entirely onto copyright owners to monitor the YouTube site on a daily or hourly basis to detect infringing videos and send notices to YouTube demanding that it “take down” the infringing works.No DRM for YouTube:Moreover, YouTube has deliberately withheld the application of available copyright protection measures in order to coerce rights holders to grant it licenses on favorable terms.

YouTube is sneaky:

YouTube has also implemented features that prevent copyright owners from finding infringing videos by searching the YouTube site. YouTube thereby hinders Plaintiffs’ attempts to locate infringing videos to protect their rights. At the same time, YouTube allows its users to make the hidden videos available to others through other YouTube features like the “embed,” “share,” and “friends” functions. In this way, YouTube continues to profit from the infringement, while hindering Plaintiffs from preventing it.


On information and belief, YouTube has also sent cease and desist letters to persons who provide software that can be used to make copies of videos from YouTube’s library, asserting that such use is not “authorized.” In truth, YouTube opposes such copying because YouTube receives advertising revenue and new users only if viewers are drawn to YouTube’s own site to view videos, not when users make copies that they can share with others independently of YouTube’s site. Thus, when it is in YouTube’s financial interest to do so, it proactively polices conduct it regards as unauthorized, even on other websites.

The Google-YouTube circle of copyright hell:

Google has also recently launched a feature on Google’s own website whereby a search for videos returns thumbnails and results for videos on YouTube, thereby participating in, inducing, contributing to, and profiting from the infringement on YouTube. Additional massive damages to plaintiffs and others have been caused by Google’s preservation and backing of YouTube’s infringing business model.

The money shot:

Defendants’ infringement has harmed and continues to harm the interests of authors, songwriters, directors, producers, performers, and many other creators. If left unchecked, rampant infringement will gravely undermine Plaintiffs and other companies that generate creative works, and will threaten the livelihoods of those who work in and depend upon these companies. Plaintiffs therefore have no choice but to seek immediate redress. Plaintiffs seek a declaration that Defendants’ conduct willfully infringes Plaintiffs’ copyrights, a permanent injunction requiring Defendants to employ reasonable methodologies to prevent or limit infringement of Plaintiffs’ copyrights, and statutory damages for Defendants’ past and present willful infringement, or actual damages plus profits, of at least one billion dollars.

Topic: Social Enterprise

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  • Blame the DMCA, not Google

    Interesting to see the wrath in action. What's clear to me at least, is that the real villain here is the DMCA. Google is just taking advantage of a loophole in the law. Viacom should be working with their legislators (read: donating scads of cash to them) to get the Safe Harbor provisions rewritten in a clearer manner. As it stands, Google seems to be meeting all of their obligations under the (poorly written) law.

    And this bit is odd:
    "reducing the incentives of America?s creative industries"
    Given that YouTube has sparked a revolution of people creating their own videos, can one really say that it has reduced incentive to create?
    tic swayback
    • When did you get your law degree?

      It is clear that the lawyers at Viacom believe they have a solid case. It is also clear that there is a precedence established with the successfull P2P cases. I don't believe your legal advice is going to rule the day but them IANL.
      • In my pants

        Yes, you are correct, I'm speculating here. Viacom's lawyers think they have a rock solid case. Then again, Google's lawyers think the same thing, otherwise they wouldn't have bought YouTube in the first place. I guess I'm betting that Google can hire smarter lawyers than the tv company can. We'll have to see.

        ---It is also clear that there is a precedence established with the successfull P2P cases---

        That establishes things for p2p networks. How that applies to YouTube, or a bulletin board, or a search engine are all still open questions. Should be interesting.
        tic swayback
        • P2P was less infringing than YouTube

          In the P2P cases, they were merely providing an index of where to find the content on other users' computers. In YouTube's case, YouTube is the one who is storing and serving the content.

          IMHO, in the P2P cases, the companies (Napster, Grokster, etc) were contributing much less to the infringement than YouTube is today.
          • Not so for Napster

            Wasn't Napster's problem that everything was on centralized servers, hence the growth of decentralized systems that followed it?
            tic swayback
          • Napster's servers stored indexes, but not content

            Wikipedia describes Napster's service as such: "Napster was the first of the massively popular peer-to-peer file sharing systems, although it was not fully peer-to-peer since it used central servers to maintain lists of connected systems and the files they provided?directories, effectively?while actual transactions were conducted directly between machines."

            The content was not stored on Napsters servers nor were the bits themselves trafficked through their servers. But they were still found guilty.
          • Thanks

            Couldn't quite remember that one.
            tic swayback
    • maybe

      "can one really say that it has reduced incentive to create?"

      Create for profit maybe.

      Create as a hobby, definitely not.
      • Blending of the two

        What about those who created for a hobby and are now profiting from that creation? There's a long history of directors making short films, releasing them on the internet and generating buzz, and then getting hired based on that publicity generated.

        I'm sure the guys who made those big Diet Coke and Mentos videos probably got some work, some appearances out of those.
        tic swayback
  • RE: Excerpts from Viacom's scathing YouTube complaint

    So Dr. Evil works for Viacom now? One BILLION dollars!
  • RE: Excerpts from Viacom's scathing YouTube complaint

    Viacom is worried about the creative types losing money? My lily-white ass, they are! They and their ilk are worried about keeping their stranglehold on entertainment and their own MASSIVE slice of the money involved. They pay their talent peanuts by comparison.
  • RE: Excerpts from Viacom's scathing YouTube complaint

    My bad, I intended to comment on the story, not NeuromancerLV's comment.
  • RE: Excerpts from Viacom's scathing YouTube complaint

    Viacom must be owned by the lying Bushes or Cheneys.
    Throw 'em all in prison.
  • RE: Excerpts from Viacom's scathing YouTube complaint

    Ok I'm a fan of YouTube but it seems odd the file sharing software makers like Kazaa can be sued or fined large amounts of money for promoting the ability to download files, music etc.. from various PCs. Yet I can freely pop onto YouTube and happily watch music videos that have not been submitted by the artists or promoters themselves, and YouTube can get away with it.