At the core of this copyright case is, well, $1 billion in damages for copyright infringement, and newly released court documents make both sides look bad. Viacom points to internal YouTube e-mail messages that say the company needed stolen content to drive traffic, or in some cases uploaded the content itself. YouTube claims that Viacom deliberately made its videos look like users uploaded them in some cases, and also routinely allowed user-uploaded Viacom videos to remain on the site, making it hard to know what was stolen and what was legitimate.
These details, amusing as they are, don't mean anything for users. That's probably why YouTube Chief Counsel Zahavah Levine tries to make this case into a Digital Millennium Copyright Act issue in a blog post on the matter. He writes that "YouTube and sites like it will cease to exist in their current form if Viacom and others have their way in their lawsuits against YouTube." That seems extreme.
Of course, the DMCA plays a role in this case. The law says Web sites are not liable for the content its users upload as long as the site takes down infringing content upon request. If that wasn't true, sites like YouTube would definitely be in trouble.
But what's happening in court has very little to do with the YouTube of today. Regardless of whether YouTube was built on copyright infringement, as Viacom alleges, the site no longer relies on stolen content and has a pretty good system for snuffing it out.
The lawsuit itself is a granular, he-said-she-said argument about who uploaded what, and shouldn't have broader implications for Web video or Web sites. Certainly Viacom's alleged shenanigans would make it harder for YouTube to take down videos under the DMCA, but this is a peculiar case of confusion and deception that isn't likely to repeat itself, especially as Web video matures.
This story, "Viacom vs. Google's YouTube: What's in it For You" was originally published by PCWorld.