As some of you may have known, there was a lawsuit Viacom filed against YouTube for presenting a service that has continued to permit and enable copyright infringement without taking significant steps to cub this practice. Well, a judge has made a ruling with regard to this case -- YouTube must hand over sensitive data with regard to every public video that has been hosted on the site. I'm not exaggerating on this one. In addition, Viacom wants every video that has been taken down, regardless of the reason, and the judge has granted that request.
Although the blog entry above does contain a distinct slant, I don't think that Michael Arrington or many of the other prominent bloggers writing about this subject are overreacting. While later reports have stressed that YouTube does not have to hand over usernames, real names, or e-mail addresses, the scope of the amount of information that is to be transferred is absurd and possibly illegal. Contrary to what the mainstream media has been spinning it, this isn't just incidental information such as the number of hits or information limited to what is necessary to prove its case. Viacom wants IP addresses, timestamps, and other identifying details of anyone who accessed a public YouTube video. This even exceeds what the RIAA sought in its lawsuits, as this information does not target merely active sharers or even people who have YouTube accounts, but anyone who has EVER come across a YouTube video, even one that is embedded in another site.
I will admit some people are making a big deal about Google/YouTube collecting all this information in the first place. I think that it's a little shortsighted to fault YouTube for doing this. Set aside the profit motive and the necessity of this information for operation of the site, if they didn't collect this information, they would be potentially liable for far more than copyright infringement, and it would be a very clear cut case for a judge to shut YouTube down.
I also think that the outrage over the loss of privacy is a little bit inflated. Contrary to popular belief, you don't have the "right" to be completely anonymous on the Internet, and people who have viewed a video on YouTube have used its services as much as those who upload. More importantly, though, YouTube is legally compelled to comply with the law.
The real problem is the fact that the judge has ruled in a manner that goes against all traditional legal thought on this matter. It's one thing to record information and share it with your friends and to willingly engage in a communal diary. It's another thing for the state to demand that you turn over that diary to the plaintiff along with DNA and writing samples of anyone who has ever read or written in this diary, who is suing to find out if any of the entries are illegal. Normally, you have to have something called probable cause and point to certain passages that would at least warrant a further examination. Making an accusation without sufficient proof then asking for the material not even related to the case is unreasonable. Granting the use of that material in the name of the law is unethical given the nature of the complaint, and quite possibly unconstitutional.
And this attitude is infectious. If the judge can overstep, what is to stop Viacom from overstepping its own bounds? Why would they want to know the content of all deleted videos and not just those that were removed to the violation of its copyright? Why would they want to know the habits of people who visit YouTube who are not logged in? What if a video were removed for privacy reasons? By giving that video to Viacom, isn't that violating the privacy of the affected parties without their consent?
Worst yet, what's lost in the privacy issue is the fact that the copyright infringement complaint itself is scarily vague. YouTube has both a size and length limit for several reasons, the most important of which is to thwart people posting whole shows and movies produced by major television and motion picture studios. That's not to say that people don't do it at all, but the inherent limits lean toward use of the service that would fall under the defense of fair use or parody. An isolated five second or even five minute clip of hours of material provided for no monetary gain is considered an infringement as grand as the uploading the every episode Star Trek: Voyager. Viacom could sue someone because he or she watched the SpongeBob Souljah Boy parody, and given the limited legal resources of most people, the company would win.
I'm not going to to anything drastic like delete my YouTube account. First of all it would be pointless as they already have information on me that will be shared with the big V. Second, I am not foolish enough to realize my actions by themselves would have any effect on the Viacom. However, I am not going to go to any Paramount movies (as well as Dreamworks, Nickelodeon, etc) for the forseeable future. They were very lucky Iron Man came out before this mess. I will not pay one dime to see the movie on DVD, or any other of the moving pictures that have or will come out unless something changes.