Viacom Files Suit Against ‘Coercive’ YouTube

Since requesting YouTube remove 100,000 of its copyrighted clips in February, Viacom claims 60,000 more were added to YouTube, and now the owner of MTV and Comedy Central is suing for over $1 billion in damages. Viacom filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, claiming six counts of intentional copyright infringement of its entertainment properties by the Google company.

“YouTube appropriates the value of creative content on a massive scale for YouTube’s benefit without payment or license,” stated the Viacom complaint. “YouTube’s brazen disregard for intellectual property laws fundamentally threatens not just [Viacom], but the economic underpinnings of one of the most important sectors of the United States economy.”

Viacom noted the suit was filed following unproductive negotiations, contending YouTube has employed coercive tactics to convince media companies to sign licensing agreements with the video sharing site. “By limiting copyright protection to business partners who have agreed to grant it licenses, YouTube attempts to coerce copyright owners to grant it a license in order to receive the protection to which they are entitled under the copyright laws.”

YouTube has signed content distribution and ad revenue sharing deals with NBC, CBS, Sony BMG Music Entertainment, Universal Music Group, Warner Music Group, and others.

The Viacom complaint also states, “YouTube proactively reviews and removes pornographic videos from its library, but refused to do the same thing for videos that obviously infringe on [Viacom’s] copyrights.”

Before Viacom formally announced its request that YouTube rid its site of 100,000 clips, the firm had taken similar actions involving the deletion of several thousand videos, Viacom VP of Corporate Communications Jeremy Zweig told ClickZ News last month. At the time Zweig added, “We would love to do a deal with [YouTube], but it became clear they weren’t prepared to do one imminently.”

Viacom had worked with other parties to identify copyrighted material on various sharing sites, and sent YouTube separate removal notices pertaining to each individual video clip. Since the February request, Viacom has sent YouTube an additional 60,000 video removal notices, mainly relying on its own in-house staff.

Viacom, producer of popular shows such as Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” and “South Park” and MTV’s “Laguna Beach,” announced a deal with Joost, allowing users of the beta video site to access several hundred hours of full-length Viacom TV and movie content. Viacom expects to receive ad revenue through the arrangement, the main thing it’s wanted from YouTube all along. Viacom has also signed a content distribution agreement with file-sharing site BitTorrent.

UPDATE: After this article was originally published, YouTube owner, Google, issued the following statement regarding the Viacom suit: “We are confident that YouTube has respected the legal rights of copyright holders and believe the courts will agree….We will certainly not let this suit become a distraction to the continuing growth and strong performance of YouTube and its ability to attract more users, more traffic and build a stronger community.”

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