Viacom Orders Google to Remove 100,000 YouTube Videos

After months of discussions concerning copyrighted videos, Viacom has asked Google to remove in excess of 100,000 videos from YouTube.

Although YouTube has been subpoenaed by both Paramount and Fox, and has been sued at least once in federal court, this is the first blanket takedown notice from an American media company against the site. Last year, a Japanese publishing group requested the removal of approximately 30,000 videos.

"Today, Viacom informed YouTube that over 100,000 additional unauthorized clips of its video content – representing 1.2 billion video streams – must be removed immediately from its site," read Viacom's press release. "After months of ongoing discussions with YouTube and Google, it has become clear that YouTube is unwilling to come to a fair market agreement that would make Viacom content available to YouTube users."

Viacom's release went on to allege that the companies have yet to implement filtering tools that were promised in October 2006, after Google bought YouTube. Viacom also alleges that Google and YouTube retain all revenue from their video sites.

"The recent addition of YouTube-served content to Google Video Search simply compounds this issue," the release says.

This is not the first time that Viacom has had troubles with YouTube. In October 2006, Comedy Central, which is owned by Viacom, asked YouTube to remove much of its Comedy Central content. YouTube complied, although many videos from Comedy Central shows remained available, and there were rumors that a tenative agreement had been reached.

But Viacom's direct and public request directly to Google is troublesome for YouTube's business model, especially given that Viacom has been a prominent participant in Google's video ads test. So while Viacom endorses Google's video ads model, it is no longer willing to tolerate copyright infringement on a massive scale. Moreover, Viacom is not willing to be held hostage by YouTube's large audience, or Google's attempts to use that scale as a bargaining chip.

Google had stated previously in an SEC filing that copyright concerns, particularly over video, could force the company to change its business plan. But in public, Google has implied that it holds the upper hand in negotiations with content owners.

"We are encouraging copyright owners to submit content to us and then to measure how many fans, how many tremendous viewers, what that community is… that's a very, very qualified viewer," Google CEO Eric Schmidt said during the company's Q4 2006 conference call yesterday.

Viacom, however, apparently believes it makes its content accessible enough without YouTube's help.

"We have great respect for and loyalty to our audiences. We host more than 130 authorized web sites where millions of fans visit and interact with our content. Our internet portfolio has more visitors than any other entertainment company and we are always seeking distribution relationships to ensure that any of our products and services are easily accessible on every platform," the release read.
"Our hope is that YouTube and Google will support a fair and authorized distribution model that allows consumers to continue to enjoy our very popular content now and in the future."

Update: In an interview with the Mercury News, Viacom's counsel says Viacom had reached the point of "zero tolerance," after sending YouTube tens of thousands of takedown notices since the video-sharing site went live more than a year ago. "We are asking to get paid," Fricklas said. "Our content is very valuable and we think that has obviously contributed to YouTube's growth and to Google.''

Staci Krmaer at Paidcontent says Viacom was also upset because they wanted to control ad placement around their children's programming on YouTube.

Update #2: Marketwatch's Ben Charny reports that Fox isn't planning to issue a similar takedown notice.

Update #3: Statement from a YouTube rep: "It's unfortunate that Viacom will no longer be able to benefit from YouTube's passionate audience which has helped to promote many of Viacom's shows. We have received a DMCA takedown request from Viacom, and we will comply with their request. We take copyright issues very seriously. We prohibit users from uploading infringing material, and we cooperate with all copyright holders to identify and promptly remove infringing content as soon as we are officially notified. We will continue to work with content partners large and small to provide them with a platform to promote their content and engage and grow their audiences."