As YouTube—and its parent company Google— prepare to defend themselves against a $1 billion copyright infringement lawsuit brought against them by media conglomerate Viacom, the popular video sharing Web site has made an interesting move: it has requested testimony from Comedy Central‘s well-known "fake news" comedians Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. Comedy Central is owned by Viacom; the two host The Daily Show with John Stewart and its offshoot The Colbert Report, clips of which were both among the most popular items posted to YouTube by its users.
The comedians appear as number three and four on the list of 32 people YouTube wants to have give a deposition in the case. Viacom CEO Philip Dauman and general counsel Michael Fricklas top the list; Viacom chairman Sumner Redstone is eighth on the list.
Viacom, in turn, put Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin at the top of its list, along with Google CEO Eric Schmidt.
In its copyright suit, Viacom claims clips from its Comedy Central shows were among the most-viewed clips on YouTube’s service, and that all the clips were uploaded without Viacom’s permission and constituted copyright infringement. YouTube has removed hundreds of thousands of video clips from its service in response to takedown requests, and is beginning to roll out technology and services to deter uploading of copyrighted material and to enable copyright owners to more efficiently get infringing material removed from YouTube. Google says respects copyright laws, and responds promptly to takedown requests from copyright holders.
YouTube’s decision to seek deposition from Stewart and Colbert is slightly odd: neither has a deep involvement with Viacom’s business and intellectual property decisions, and neither is believed to have played any significant role in Viacom’s decision to sue Google and YouTube. YouTube may simply be seeking publicity by seeking depositions from celebrity witnesses, or (more likely) it is seeking to undermine Viacom’s claim that its business was harmed through infringing posts to YouTube: Google may be preparing to argue that Viacom materially benefited from fans posting clips of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report.