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Court Invites Viacom to Violate YouTube Viewers' Privacy

Not for the first time, a court ruling in a copyright-policy case has made privacy rights an afterthought. Last week, U.S. District Court Judge Louis L. Stanton ruled that Google had to hand over video-viewing records of its YouTube subsidiary to Viacom, which alleges that YouTube built a business on the unauthorized sharing of Viacom's copyrighted works and seeks at least $1 billion in damages.

As my colleague Ellen Nakashima wrote in Friday's Post, the ruling will require Google to provide its viewing log --12 terabytes' worth of data containing "the unique login ID of the viewer, the time he began watching, the Internet Protocol, or IP, address of the user's computer and the identification of the video."

Judge Stanton had no problem protecting Google's own intellectual property, rejecting Viacom's demands for access to the source code behind much of YouTube's operations. But he blandly dismissed Google's defense of YouTube users' privacy in a brief paragraph of the 25-page ruling (PDF):

... their privacy concerns are speculative. Defendants do not refute that the "login ID is an anonymous pseudonym that users create for themselves when they sign up with YouTube" which without more "cannot identify specific individuals" (Pls.' Reply 44), and Google has elsewhere stated: "We... are strong supporters of the idea that data protection laws should apply to any data that could identify you. The reality is though that in most cases, an IP address without additional information cannot."
Internet Protocol addresses can, of course, provide quite specific identification in some cases, and many login IDs themselves reflect a person's offline identity.

Electronic Frontier Foundation lawyer Kurt Opsahl also argues convincingly that the ruling violates the letter and spirit of the Video Privacy Protection Act.

The silly thing is that by far the best remedy to unauthorized video sharing is not lawsuits that take years to grind through the legal system, but ad-supported video sites that offer far better quality and reliability than YouTube.

Viacom says it won't make any use of this viewing data outside this lawsuit. But, speaking for myself, I'm not in the habit of trusting the lawyers of any large corporation to protect my rights.

I am a little more reassured by the part of Nakashima's story that quotes Viacom general counsel Michael Fricklas as expressing a willingness to honor Google's request that it be allowed to anonymize these records. In that case, the data would arrive at Viacom's offices already stripped of IP addresses and login IDs -- which the company shouldn't need anyway to prove that YouTube relied on the unauthorized viewing of Viacom's works.

Should Viacom fail to follow through on that, however, I have no problem with Google following TechCrunch's mischievous suggestion that it deliver those 12 terabytes' worth of logs in printed form. Or, in a less environmentally crummy form of protest, Google could provide the same 12 TB of data on hand-labeled USB flash drives.

I welcome your thoughts on this case. But first, be honest: Have you watched a clip from a Viacom subsidiary on YouTube? (My answer: Yes, I watched quite a few Jon Stewart routines there -- up until Comedy Central started putting them on its own site.)

By Rob Pegoraro  |  July 7, 2008; 11:00 AM ET
Categories:  Gripes  
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YouTube gives me the chance to watch clips of things I missed on TV that I hear about online, it's much easier than trying to navigate networks' convoluted, bloated, 508-failure web sites (not to mention most of them have very suspicious code embedded, so for privacy reasons I *don't* go to their sites if I can avoid it).

Viacom didn't need individual user information, all it needs is the viewing stats for the alleged infringing videos - (we already know Viacom has tried to claim fair-use clips to be "infringing"), so I've got no faith that they're not fishing for something else.

All they'll have to do in the future is refer to the logs they're getting, start a lawsuit, subpoena Google again for more specific information that's based on what they're getting now.

Viacom doesn't seem to understand YouTube actually *brings* it more viewers - I "discovered" Colbert on YouTube, now I watch it on TV.

I can't be the only one.

Posted by: Kath | July 7, 2008 2:44 PM | Report abuse

I cannot fathom why there are not more youtube users up in arms about this invasion of privacy, and I for one, and very close to suspending my account (and using my sister's) for the principle of the whole situation.

Very troubling indeed.

Posted by: Nia | July 7, 2008 2:49 PM | Report abuse

I consider myself to be the average below average retard when it comes to copy rights. But isn't there something about privacy and your right to consent act of 1974. If you throw your trash out on the street, it is considered fair game for anyone and even then the people that collect your trash are not authorized to use your identity,so what gives Viacom the right to throw stuff out on the information highway and not expect ordinary retards without law degrees in copy right infringement to pick up that trash! I guess there is a moral to the story which is don't pick up the trash and I wouldn't let anyone throw trash away on my servers! I better not see my name pop up on someones computer that gets stolen with my information and finds out how computer illiterate I am and how many You Tube videos I have watched on how to do operate a computer, I would be embareAssed!

Posted by: P. SUE DONYM | July 7, 2008 3:11 PM | Report abuse

I say "f" Viacom. Whenever I see ads on billboards owned by Viacom, I make a mental note not to consume what's being advertised there. I love Jon Stewart, but I'm going to stop watching his show as long as it's affiliated with Viacom. If there's a Viacom-affilliated TV series or movie that I really want to watch, I'll wait for my local library to purchase a copy. That way, at least they're only getting money for one shared copy. I'm so glad Howard Stern is at Sirius now.

Posted by: Huey Van Iadore | July 7, 2008 3:19 PM | Report abuse

Here are the brands that I am personally avoiding, because they're owned by Viacom:

Atom Entertainment

BET Networks
BET Gospel
BET Hip Hop
BET Event Productions
BET Pictures
BET On Blast
BET Mobile
BET International

CMT Pure Country
CMT Loaded
CMT Mobile
CMT Radio
CMT On Demand


GT Marketplace




MTV Networks
MTV Jams
MTV Hits
MTV Books

MTV Tr3s


MTVN International
TMF (The Music Factory)
Game One
MTV Boombox
MTV Revolution

College Media Networks


Nick at Nite
Nick Jr.

Nick GAS
Nicktoons Network

Nickelodeon Consumer Products
Nick Arcade




Spike TV
Spike Filmed Entertainment

The N
The Click

TV Land

VH1 Classic
VH1 Soul

Virtual Worlds
Virtual Hills
Virtual Laguna Beach
Virtual Pimp My Ride


Paramount Pictures Corporation
DreamWorks Studios
MTV Films
Nickelodeon Movies
Paramount Home Entertainment
Paramount Pictures
Paramount Vantage

Posted by: Huey Van Iadore | July 7, 2008 3:27 PM | Report abuse

This is a trend that will be more and more common - what you think is private will be disseminated to others that you never thought would ever be able to watch and check up on what you do online. As this becomes more and more everyday, the use of different anonymizers, rerouting and so on, and to encrypt ones messages will be more and more common I believe.

Posted by: Anders | July 7, 2008 3:33 PM | Report abuse

Why isn't anyone pissed at youtube? They created an unrealistic expectation of access to content by allowing copyrighted material that belongs to others to be distributed from their site. Now everyone thinks they have a "right" to this material when in fact the opposite is true. Youtube raped copyright owners in order to build a substantial audience (substantial enough for Google to pony up all that dough to buy it), and now everyone is pissed at Viacom for trying to protect its assets? You may not like the big V, but they invested a lot to produce content like The Daily Show...those of you that want to see copyright protection disappear, don't bitch when no more good content is produced.

Posted by: Brett | July 7, 2008 4:18 PM | Report abuse

Personally I think these logs could vindicate Youtube rather than convict them. I may have watched a couple Viacom clips over the years, but the vast majority of videos I've watched on Youtube is user-created stuff. This is what Youtube is built on, not posting crappy partial clips of copyrighted material...

Posted by: John | July 7, 2008 4:34 PM | Report abuse

Well, I invite Judge Stanton to make public his ip address, and see how well the use of his computer remains anonymous. Viacom and Judge Stanton could both put this issue to rest, but between Stantons ill thought out opinion and Viacom's apparent indifference to public privacy concerns, we are here discussing it. Judge Stanton and Viacom both need a wake up call.

Posted by: Ken D | July 7, 2008 4:56 PM | Report abuse

"Google could provide the same 12 TB of data on hand-labeled USB flash drives."

How about on 5 1/4 floppies? Although, I like the printed form better if it wouldn't take a whole forest of paper and a fleet of semi's to deliver it.

Posted by: Mike | July 7, 2008 5:57 PM | Report abuse

My name is anonymous.

Viacom's overreaching attempt to sue users for piracy (isn't that where their concern truly lies?) has resulted in one final lesson about life:
Assume a secret identity.

If my boss can check my MySpace page and find porn, he deserves to kick me out. The school districts do the same with their teachers -- if caught at a bar or drinking in public, they're fired.
And I'm not questioning the morality of porn or drinking -- I'm saying that if you do habitually do something of questionable morality, *hide it!*

Seriously. People who use their real name as a log in make me laugh. Now I can track them outside and inside of Cyberspace (I'm a reporter: ie, private citizen).

So Spider-man dons a mask. Of course he could get arrested. But he also removes liability from companies, building engineers, and bridge makers: if he wants to sue, he has to give over his identity.

Assume they are out to get you. If you're proven wrong, your only loss is the time involved in stressing.

Assume they're NOT out to get you. If you're proven wrong, your loss is being caught and having the worst assumed about you.

Posted by: SpidermonkeyD | July 7, 2008 7:04 PM | Report abuse

Folks, what we need to do is stand back and look at the bigger picture, what's behind Viacom's power to be able to intimidate all of us.
For so many years we have been surrendering our rights, by way of how we allow our government representatives to attain office and who they represent. Too many are bought and paid for by big business money.
Those same represenatives, the President included, have staffed our courts with judges who are biased to thier wishes and political ideology.
Our form of Government is a Capitolistic Democratic Republic, mostly capitolistic.
It is big money aka big business that greases the wheels of government and monetary society. It is Big Business that lobbies our representatives and promotes thier election, which in turn narrows our choices of officials. It is big business that has the voice as to how much greed is legal in the name of Profit or how much profit is in the interest of it's shareholders.
A business exists only through its customers, and the customers are gained through the benifits the company offers.
If you don't like the benefits the company offers, one should find another that satisfies your need.
I really have no need for what Viacom offers at thier price, there are many others who can supply what I want.
You can do the same, Viacom needs your business, you don't need Viacom.
Thats my 2 bits

Posted by: Buff Oon | July 7, 2008 8:12 PM | Report abuse

Can the people sue Viacom for this? They have no rights to user's information.

Posted by: Time | July 7, 2008 10:37 PM | Report abuse

Come on people.. Sure you can watch, download, do anything you want on the internet....but when somebody asks what your downloading, watching, or go after them? Go for big brother...the one who is collecting, watching, recording your moves...

Posted by: Ricky D | July 7, 2008 10:40 PM | Report abuse

Sue Viacom?... Go sue Google for spying on you.... Come on people.. Sure you can watch, download, do anything you want on the internet....but when somebody asks what your downloading, watching, or go after them? Go for big brother...the one who is collecting, watching, recording your moves...

Posted by: again | July 7, 2008 10:41 PM | Report abuse

i have a pile of floppies of 2 sizes I'll be glad to donate to Google for the purpose - hey, recycling these things is the green thing to do, right? Can't think of a better use for old tech - protesting the new privacy invasions.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 7, 2008 10:59 PM | Report abuse

If Google would not collect and save this stuff ("To better offer us advertisements that interest us#1) as they have been repeated warned about, they would not have to worry about turning anything over to anyone. They would have nothing saved. But, Google, in its greed, saves a lot of information and anonymizing it is not enough. HELLO GOOGLE! ANYONE HOME?

This is why I switched a long time ago to for my search engine and try to use Google as little as possible.

P.S. #1 We are not interested in ANY advertisement(s).

Posted by: H. Truman | July 8, 2008 1:29 AM | Report abuse

There are primarily two totally different kinds of 'privacy.'

One kind is against a federal, state or local government. The Constitution protects our 'rights' as against the government, but not against our neighbor [unless they are a government 'agent.']

Another kind of privacy is created by way of Tort law.

In this regard, a CRIME occurs when one violates either a criminal statute, or a criminal aspect of the Common Law and for those states that recognize Common Law, those were the laws in force in England when American became independent. Since many states had yet to become states of the Union at that time, these states usually do not recognize Common Law and rely exclusively on statutory law. A small exception usually occurs [though not always] for 'Common Law marriages' that began in a 'state' that recognized them when one moves elsewhere, i.e., Maryland, a Common Law state, does not recognize Common Law marriage UNLESS it comes from a jurisdiction that does, i.e. The District of Columbia.

A TORT is an offense against another individual and so, but not all torts are also crimes, i.e. assault & battery, etc. The tort of the right to privacy [in its multiple forms] is not also a crime and one cannot have a REASONABLE expectation of privacy for things done publicly.

Thus, I cannot PUBLISH/POST a video on YouTube and also expect privacy re same. Now there might be certain details that YouTube has about me that were not also published with the video, but most courts will see those details as ancillary to the publication itself.


Posted by: brucerealtor | July 8, 2008 1:59 AM | Report abuse

A TORT is an offense against another individual and so, but not all torts are also crimes, i.e. assault & battery, etc


A TORT is an offense against another individual, and while some torts are also crimes, i.e., assault & battery, most torts are not also crimes, i.e., most privacy torts.

Posted by: brucerealtor | July 8, 2008 2:06 AM | Report abuse

I was really hesitant to go online with a computer way back in 95.
I had a feeling all this "online computer stuff" was just a ploy so the government could keep "tabs" on everyone.
It's scary to know I was correct.

Posted by: Th8x2a5k009 | July 8, 2008 4:50 AM | Report abuse

Google should provide the logs as streaming video.

Posted by: Wanksta | July 8, 2008 7:55 AM | Report abuse

having read some previous statements from Viacom's chairman, he believes that he/Viacom are entitled to revenue if it is determined to have been generated through Viacom's intellectual property shown/watched on Youtube. i am concerned about privacy, though if records delivered to Viacom only contain information such as "video XYZ was posted on 1/3/99 & was seen 300 times" that doesn't present anyone's name, address, phone # or IP address then, that should suffice. then Viacom would/should have to go back, possibly in another suit & ask for whomever uploaded copyrighted material if & when they could show violation of "Fair Use" w/ regard to each & every clip shown on Youtube-no "John Doe" warrants. Viacom might then also be able to go after Google. certainly their pockets are deeper than mine or collectively, Google users-'cause all Viacom wants is the $$ & it would seem improper(as well as ridiculous) to think that Viacom could go after Google's viewers, there is no downloading through Google, just streaming. however, since 9/11, the federal courts have been more aggressive in precisely chipping away @ "The Bill of Rights" w/ loud voices on the conservative right saying if you've done no wrong you have nothing to fear. as a Black person born & living in America, i know that a load of horse hockey!!

actually the Constitution states-"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized." the keyword would appear to be unreasonable & that is the word the federal court has missed. beginning in 1980 w/ the election of Ronald Reagon, the federal courts have been used by Presidents to appoint judges to the federal bench that have slowly eroded our "long held, sacred beliefs in life liberty & the pursuit of happiness". people, that is how "activists judges" get to be activist judges-they were appointed by someone then confirmed. i've said for 30 years this time was coming- i regret it seems closer & closer to being fully realised... it seems what is needed by lovers of privacy, liberty & it's advocates is a lobby that is as vocal, financially viable & rabid for the 6th amendment as the NRA is for the 4th. in addition technology & uses developed from it, have moved ahead way faster than our legislatures, courts & governing boards ability to adjust existing rules, regulations & any accompanying exemptions or to create new rules, regulations, etc...

The studios are exerting pressure on the telecos & cablecos w/ regard to downloads & what/when/how we watch or listen to content. Remember In November!!

Posted by: dkjones | July 8, 2008 8:58 AM | Report abuse

Note that one doesn't actually have to log on to YouTube to view most of their videos, so that "logon ID" is not going to appear on each and every record.

Try it yourself! Install a new browser (f'rinstance, Opera, since I'm assuming you already use Firefox) and watch some YouTube videos without logging in. Since this is your browser's first visit, you'll know that no cookies are hanging around from previous visits.

I'm surprised no journalists covering the story seem to have mentioned it. If Stanton's order REQUIRES a "login ID" in each record of the database, Google CAN'T comply completely. (Maybe it will just hand over records of logged-in transactions?)

Posted by: just john | July 8, 2008 8:59 AM | Report abuse

This judge needs to come into the 20th century... so we can educate him on some of the things that can be done in the 21st century.

I do not DO "U-toob" (it requires Flash - which is a security hazard, so I do not have it on my systems). BUT for those who do, they expect anonymity. The US Government has already gone WAY too far in invading the privacy of the citizens of the world. If I were Google, I'd be really tempted to suddenly find that a virus/worm had invaded the data tapes and the backups and rendered the data unreadable...

Posted by: nofluer | July 8, 2008 9:16 AM | Report abuse

I'm waiting for the court order that demands all users supply data and parse collected data to update credit score databases.

It is not clear why Viacom needs so much detail. Why not just the number of hits per video. Why does the judge require personal data? The next thing that will happen is Google will be come a subscription service of court ordered personal data transfer. When will this information be destroyed? Can Viacom market the data? How will the data be analyzed and who will do it. It seems the data should be going to a neutral third party.

Posted by: Ransome | July 8, 2008 10:55 AM | Report abuse

1984 is finally here.
What can we do?
Boycott Viacom, maybe.
Boycott Google? Yea, right.

One sure way to get the law makers protect 'your' privacy is for Google publish all user data collected to everyone in searchable form so we all know what each of your law maker is watching.

Posted by: Zzz | July 8, 2008 11:48 AM | Report abuse

Huey, thanks for posting the Viacom brands.

I haven't read the case, and so I am not sure exactly why Viacom wants this data, likely having to do with copyright, but more likely to see if it can make some money from this.

Since Google will have to pay something to transfer the data, and our privacy might be involved, should the judge make Viacom pay Google to inform each and every user of the data transfer, and offer them a chance to opt out?

Remember that users in other countries will be affected by the decision, and what is the role of privacy laws that might differ from that of the judge's jurisdiction?

Posted by: joe.shuren, bouvet island | July 8, 2008 2:08 PM | Report abuse

Cancel YouTube Account doesn't mean they don't have your IP address.

But I'd cancel YouTube and BAN ALL THINGS VIACOM and GOOGLE.

Posted by: Beanie | July 8, 2008 6:54 PM | Report abuse

I can only assume that comments
Posted by: P. SUE DONYM | July 7, 2008 3:11 PM
are from a law school drop out.
How many times do you have to use the word "retard" to get your point across?

Posted by: missionmom | July 8, 2008 11:45 PM | Report abuse

There is no secret identity as someone suggested. Not when Viacomm will also get your IP address. Google has very deep pockets. It wins pretty much every law suit against it for trademark infringement in its ad program - its bread and butter. But are they really willing to roll over and let their users' rights be trounced. All Viacomm has to do is a cease and desist of material. Why should the users' names, IP addresses and videos watched and God knows what else be shared with them? So much for Google as a resource for the user. If they don't squash this fast, why would anyone want to use them. Tell your friends. Or the Internet as we thought we knew it would be gone.

Posted by: Beanie | July 9, 2008 12:08 AM | Report abuse

A campaign to let lawmakers know that their YouTube watching history is being transferred to a third party might get their attention.

Posted by: cf | July 10, 2008 12:26 PM | Report abuse

Diminishing the rights of individuals didn't win America or it's citizens freedom over two hundred years ago.
Americans fought for freedom then and have been all over the globe fighting for freedom since.
Freedom is our credibility at home and abroad!

Posted by: people not politicians | July 10, 2008 8:45 PM | Report abuse

Rob, you got this one just plain wrong. Why aren't you and the others furious with YouTube for keeping all this data forever? Why aren't they deleting your viewing log after 2 weeks?

So many people are so enthralled with Google. THEY KEEP ALL THIS DATA FOREVER! If their policy was to delete it, there would be nothing to hand over to Viacom.

Google is the bad guy here. Rob and the others are being snowed.

Posted by: Ed Jones | July 10, 2008 10:27 PM | Report abuse

I am flabbergasted to find out about Google's Street View software and their proposed plans to photograph British residential streets to upload to their mapping service Google Earth. If it isn't a national security risk it is totally disregarding of personal privacy. The Google Street View Team have even been posing for the camera waving their Red Flags! People are entitled to and demand privacy and security. Even if our own Security Services don't seem to take much notice of this highly suspect activity, foreign terrorists, criminals, foreign intelligence and military services will be.

The Google Street team wave their red flags for spy camera:

Posted by: JM | July 11, 2008 7:21 AM | Report abuse

I smell a conspiracy!

Any Noni Mouse should be wary of the big fat cat.

Posted by: Dogpile anyone | July 11, 2008 9:10 AM | Report abuse

I got hooked on YouTube after Beverly Sills died. Another paper, which shall remain nameless, posted two YouTube clips as part of its obituary. When I watched Beverly Sills and Danny Kaye do a comedy sketch from the 60's, in black and white, I was in tears with laughter, and, yes, with grief. Then I had to search through Danny Kaye clips and savor them, and that led me, strangely enough, to Victor Borge, to Mikhail Baryshnikov, then later, to Cyd Charisse, and Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire and on and on. YouTube became my yellow brick road with a thousand side paths Into the Woods. I became an addict. I've bought seven DVDs because of YouTube--I'm happy to say none of them produced by Viacom. I found out that some of the clips wouldn't be there the next time I looked, and I realized that the posting probably hadn't been authorized, but, oh, my, YouTube gave me a world where talent and brilliance were new again and accessible to me within moments of exploring. The judge's ruling was beyond stupid. Yes, YouTube has thousands of strange and peculiar clips to view, but it also offers the best of the best from today, and more importantly from yesterday. It offers bits and pieces of our cultural heritage. Now I'm afraid to explore it.

Posted by: cbldw | July 11, 2008 9:18 AM | Report abuse

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