Friday, July 4, 2008

Viacom Inc.'s Recent Victory Over Google Threatens Freedom of Readers of the Internet?

Google needs to continue to stand up for privacy rights of internet rulers and appeal a recent ruling concerning YouTube.

What ruling? U.S. District Judge Louis L. Stanton recently issued an order which authorizes Plaintiff's in a civil suit (Viacom Inc. and other copyright holders) full access to the YouTube logs. In this suit, Viacom is suing Google Inc. for one billion dollars in damages as they allege that Google has used the Internet to "wilfully infringe" copyrights on Viacom shows such as Sponge Bob and Comedy Central's "The Daily Show with John Stewart."

Why does Viacom Inc. and others want the data? Plaintiffs claim that they needed the data to show that their copyright-protected videos are more heavily watched than amateur clips.

Translation: they want to prove damages and translate that into a monetary award.

What will be produced? The data will include information just short of a user's real name and e-mail address. It will include such information as IP number and location.

What was Googles position? Lawyers for Google Inc., which owns YouTube, argued that the amount of data ordered to be produced (12 terabytes of data) is equivalent to 12 million books. Such a discovery request is unduely burdensome, time consuming, expensive and an invasion of privacy. (Hey Legal Eagles, why should Google Inc not enjoy the same freedoms as the mainstream press? Readers of newspapers and magazines are proprietary interests generally free from discovery so why should Google not have the same rights?)

What is in the database? The database typically includes information on when each video gets played. This information allows a calculation of how often a clip is viewed. Attached to each entry is each viewer's login ID and the IP address (Internet Protocol) for each viewer's computer. (For all practical purposes, this is the equivalent of an individual's name, address, rank and serial number. More information than John McCain gave up as a prisoner of war.)

What was Judge Stanton thinking? The judge decided that plaintiffs had a legitimate need for the information. He decided that this legitimate need outweighed any speculative privacy concern.

Was there any good news in the ruling? Not for viewers of YouTube or readers on the Internet. For Google, the judge did reject the plaintiff's request for Google's proprietary source code. The source code powers the Internet's best search engine. Its algorithms are the back bone of the publicly traded Google. The source code was not ordered to be produced because there was no evidence that Google manipulated its search algorithms to treat copyright-infringing videos differently from noncopyright material.

Besides money, what do the Plaintiff's want?

Viacom apparently claims it does not really want the readers identity information other than to prove its case as to the frequency that its copyright material is viewed. Besides a billion dollars in damages, Viacom apparently wants to dissolve the immunity protection that service providers have when they merely host content submitted by their users. But Google correctly argues that supplying the requested information gives a roadmap to an individual's identity. (Google has a blog entry that says an IP address alone can not really identify an individual user, but most feel that is not correct.)

What more remains to be done? Google has an outstanding request to depose comedians Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert of Viacom's Comedy Central. Google has not yet decided if it is to appeal.

What do you think? Judge Stanton's ruling appears contrary to a 1988 federal law barring the disclosure of specific video materials that subscribers request or obtain. It appears that the Judge has discounted constitutional free-speech rights, including a right to read or view materials anonymously. In many cases, an IP can provide a road map to identifying information such as a last name and a location. While Viacom may not really want the users" identity, the ruling may set bad precedent. Google has previously been ordered to turn over web addresses in a pornography investigation/prosecution. To extend such discovery in civil litigation may pour further fuel on to the civil litigation that threatens this great country.


Anonymous said...

Fair coverage. This is concerning as a reader of the internet. I don't do YouTube, but it seems like the personal Id of the users should be kept private.

I can see the number of hits being discoverable but not the IP numbers.

Anonymous said...

Good food for thought!

Anonymous said...

Seems like our freedoms are always under attack!

Ms Calabaza said...

I agree with anonymous 11:56 . . . one of the few places where we have been able to express ourselves is on the internet. Sadly, as with everything it seems, it will be regulated, watered-down and made "politically correct".

Until then,

Have an awesome 4th of July today folks and let's try to remember why we are celebrating: Liberty and Justice for All.

Anonymous said...

Freedom should not be compromised just so people can make a few bucks on lawsuits.

Why should someone not be able to show others a photo. Say I got a photo in the news paper. I cut it out and showed it to 100 friends. Big deal! It should be no different on the internet.

Joel A. Brodsky said...

Wow an e-discovery issue on the internet. Thanks LP, this really is a blog for those interested in the law.
I just took a CLE course on e-discovery (Illinois just started requiring CLE last year), and there are new federal rules on e-discovery. The gist of the course was that under the new rules almost everything on one’s hard drive (or in this case a database) can be copied so the parties experts can look for information. It’s scary, but you have to remember that everything that you put out on the net, or type on your computer, can be gotten to and can possibly be traced back to you. I have started to take precautions, such as “self-destructing” (self erasing) e-mails and im’s, automatic de-fragging of hard drives, and even periodic cleaning of the drives with specialized security programs. Welcome to the digital world.

computer legal eagle said...

Any particular programs you recommend for deleting hard drives?

Anonymous said...

I had my wife work on my floppy drive last night!

Anonymous said...

Really bad court decision. Hopefully it will be overturned on appeal!

Anonymous said...

Over turned like a cart of rotten apples...