Google and its YouTube video-sharing site gained a small victory when Viacom and other parties suing the company for letting users share their video content online agreed to keep users' viewing history private.
Viacom July 4 had asked through a New York district court that YouTube be required to produce viewing data, including usernames and IP addresses, from its database as a way to track who was uploading its copyrighted content and who was viewing it.
This measure was designed to give Viacom and the litany of other plaintiffs, including Viacom's Paramount Pictures, proof that YouTube's millions of users were indeed trouncing copyright laws by airing their content on the Web with abandon.
The litigants have been locked in this battle since Viacom triggered its $1 billion suit in March 2007. Google and YouTube have tried to strip out copyrighted content when they became aware of it, but users still game the system and put the content up there as part of the billions of hours worth of content on the popular site.
Viacom remains unsatisfied with the defendant's actions and is pursuing its suit in earnest. If Viacom was granted its wish and YouTube was forced to cough up user data, it would put the video-sharing site and Google in a precarious position.
No Internet company wants to betray the user base that helps butter its bread by divulging their identities. I wrote about this July 8.
Now we come to this, Google and YouTube's coup July 14: "We are pleased to report that Viacom, MTV and other litigants have backed off their original demand for all users' viewing histories and we will not be providing that information."
Moreover, YouTube officials said in a blog post, while Viacom and the plaintiffs had demanded access to users' private videos and YouTube's search technology and video identification technology "our lawyers strongly opposed each of those demands and the court sided with us."
New York District Court Judge Louis Stanton's July 14 stipulation calls for Google and YouTube by July 21 to work out a specific protocol to encrypt the user IDs and IP addresses Viacom, et al., are requesting with substitute values, or codes. Stanton said the parties shall not decrypt this protocol to attain user identities.
Also, this stipulation doesn't apply to the defendants' and plaintiffs' employees and agents YouTube records; the judge said the parties must meet to discuss how to share information about these users.
Read the details of the stipulation in full legalese here.
This stipulation is a small victory for Google and YouTube but a huge one for YouTube users. Viacom will still figure out what content is being accessed, but not who is accessing it.
Google and YouTube save face by protecting their users' information per their service agreement.
Right now, the judge is shielding the YouTube users from any legal recriminations by Viacom, which could presumably sue these individuals for copyright infringement if it had their user information as proof of their illegal actions.
This scenario would be tantamount to the Recording Industry Association of America gunning for Joe College in his dorm all over again.
Without those smoking guns, Viacom can only target the larger entities -- Google and YouTube -- for the gross infringements of their users.
In short, the big guys as enablers will take the fall for the little guys who patronize them. Hey, at least Google and YouTube have the cabbage to defend themselves.