YouTube to Viacom: Sue Yourself

This week, the opening briefs in the Viacom vs. YouTube lawsuit were made public, and YouTube chief counsel Zahavah Levine posted a blog entry in which he noted: “Some of the very clips that Viacom is suing us over were actually uploaded by Viacom itself.” According to Mr. Levine, Viacom has over the years “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.”

Mr. Levine notes that Viacom even created YouTube accounts with fake email addresses and sent employees to Kinko’s to upload videos, so the trail couldn’t be traced back to the corporate behemoth. On top of that, Viacom often looked the other way when YouTube users uploaded clips from its shows, allowing them to remain because they supported Viacom’s marketing efforts.

Eventually, however, Viacom’s own employees became confused over which clips should stay and which should go. Mr. Levine says that “on countless occasions Viacom demanded the removal of clips that it had uploaded to YouTube, only to return later to sheepishly ask for their reinstatement.”

In the opening briefs of the lawsuit, YouTube notes that Viacom is suing over videos that represent less than 0.002 percent of the content uploaded by users. Mr. Levine points out the consequences of that in his blog post: “The legal rule that Viacom seeks would require YouTube — and every Web platform — to investigate and police all content users upload, and would subject those web sites to crushing liability if they get it wrong.” He insists that YouTube’s Content ID system, which lets media companies block, leave alone, or “monetize” copyright infringing videos, is sufficient.