Viacom Sues Google/YouTube for $1 Billion

Back when Google spent $1.65 billion to acquire video sharing site YouTube, folks in some quarters were wondering how wise a move that might have been. The only reason YouTube hadn’t been sued out of existence, the argument went, was that the company didn’t have any significant assets with which it could pay damages to media companies for the tens (hundreds?) of thousands of copyrighted clips users uploaded to the site.

But when Google took over, YouTube’s pockets went from empty to very, very deep. And today, media conglomerate Viacom has filed suit against YouTube and Google, seeking $1 billion in damages from “massive copyright infringement” perpetrated by the site.

The suit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, and—in addition to that tidy $1 billion in damages—seeks an injunction prohibiting Google and YouTube from further copyright infringement. Viacom claims that nearly 160,000 clips of Viacom content have been made available on YouTube without Viacom’s consent, and that those clips have been viewed more than 1.5 billion times.

In a statement, Viacom characterized YouTube’s business strategy: “YouTube is a significant, for-profit organization that has built a lucrative business out of exploiting the devotion of fans to others’ creative works in order to enrich itself and its corporate parent Google. Their business model, which is based on building traffic and selling advertising off of unlicensed content, is clearly illegal and is in obvious conflict with copyright laws. In fact, YouTube’s strategy has been to avoid taking proactive steps to curtail the infringement on its site, thus generating significant traffic and revenues for itself while shifting the entire burden—and high cost—of monitoring YouTube onto the victims of its infringement.

Representatives from Google and YouTube have so far declined to comment on the suit.

In October of 2006, Viacom asked YouTube to take down about 10,000 of the longest clips of its programming available on YouTube, while the two companies engaged in active negotiations about offering content on the video sharing site. Google and YouTube have promised to deploy filtering technology which would automatically prevent upload of infringing material to YouTube; that technology has yet to appear, and YouTube has instead offered content providers tools with which they can more efficiently report infringing content. Viacom simmered a while, but then in early February demanded YouTube take down every last clip of Viacom-copyrighted content from its site; in its complaint, Viacom identified more than 100,000 clips it wanted removed from the service.

Viacom properties include MTV, Paramount, BET, and Comedy Central, among many others.