Monday, July 7, 2008

YouTube in Big Brother's Pocket

Okay, so not necessarily "Big Brother's" pocket, but Viacom's. Viacom owns approximately 150 networks around the world including MTV, Noggin, Nickelodeon, VH1, Paramount Pictures, BET, COMEDY CENTRAL, Country Music Television, DreamWorks, etc. Thousands of YouTube users have "borrowed" (or stolen) bits and pieces from the productions shown on these networks, posted them to YouTube, and now Viacom is out for revenge. The judge has now issued a court order for YouTube/Google to turn over massive amounts of data to Viacom for an ongoing investigation. If you've ever watched a single video from YouTube (or even from someone else's website that uses YouTube services like a few of the videos on this blog with a play button on them) then you might want to keep reading.

A few tidbits from THIS article in the The Washington Post:

That data includes every YouTube username, the associated IP address and the videos that user has watched on YouTube.

Google will also be required to hand over copies of every video removed from Youtube for any reason (DMCA notices or user-initiated deletions).

WHO has the manpower to examine this much data?

And this article from BBC News had a couple interesting comments:

The ruling will see the viewing habits of millions of YouTube users given to Viacom, totalling more than 12 terabytes of data...Viacom said it wanted the data to "compare the attractiveness of allegedly infringing video with that of non-infringing videos."

:Big Sigh: But the following is interesting:

Google pledged last year to anonymise IP addresses for search information but it has said nothing about YouTube data.

Then just today a new Wall Street Journal article on the US court order was posted HERE. This quote is particularly funny:

I say this with the utmost respect, but Judge Stanton is a moron. And Google simply cannot hand this data over without facing a class action lawsuit of staggering proportions.

Some interesting data about Google/YouTube:

To give you an idea of how many users might be affected by the order, the WSJ reports that, according to comScore, Google sites, which include YouTube, were the top U.S. video property in April, with more than 4.1 billion videos viewed, or 38% of all online videos.

Tim Wu, a Columbia law professor says:

“We realize that there’s this giant vault of private information held by Google and YouTube and other companies, and [the ruling] makes very clear that any federal judge in the country can order access to it”

The EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) is in an uproar:

The court’s order grants Viacom's request and erroneously ignores the protections of the federal Video Privacy Protection Act (VPPA), and threatens to expose deeply private information about what videos are watched by YouTube users. The VPPA passed after a newspaper disclosed Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork's video rental records. As Congress recognized, your selection of videos to watch is deeply personal and deserves the strongest protection.


Accordingly, pursuant to this federal law, the Court may not order the production of “personally identifiable information”

The Court also stated that Google did “not refute that the ‘login ID is an
anonymous pseudonym that users create for themselves when they sign up with YouTube’ which without more ‘cannot identify specific individuals.’”

But this is NOT necessarily true. Consider this:

If any single one of the YouTube users in the Logging database picked a Login ID that does identify that user (i.e. if my YouTube login was kurtopsahl), then the Logging database' information about viewing habits is protected by the VPPA, even if others pick anonymous pseudonyms...Furthermore, even Google’s IP address statement only asserts that “in most cases” the IP address is not identifiable, certainly not in all cases. Putting aside whether a Google Public Policy blog's statement on an unrelated topic can waive the privacy rights of YouTube users, the statement means that at least some YouTube users are identifiable, and must be protected by the VPPA.

For those interested, the official Court Order can be found HERE.

I'm still learning about this case, but I have just a few thoughts so far:
1) Yes, it is breaking copyright law even if you just record a couple minutes of a movie, television show, or music video and post it online without explicit permission from the artist, publisher, etc.
2) Having millions of potential fans watching short clips *could* be considered really great advertising, dontcha think? Many have watched part of a pilot episode on YouTube only to go on to watch the real series on TV and purchase the entire season. And how many have watched a portion of a music video on YouTube and immediately went online to purchase the entire album? Just trying to see an up side here--even as a librarian I *can* do that. ;)
3) IMHO, Viacom has a great deal to gain by having access to these records completely aside from their copyright lawsuit. By comparing the viewing audience who likes Show "A" to those who prefer to wash Show "B" and cross-analyzing their other viewing habits--wow, can you imagine how valuable that information is?! They certainly stand to gain an enormous lesson in advertising for future viewership and sales.
4) Never, ever pick a login ID that identifies you by your full, legal name. 'Nuff said.
5) I wonder who's next to have to cough up all personal records. I thought the Patriot Act only applied to our government (not that I'm any more happy about THAT idea).
6) I just happened to do a blog search and came up with nearly 60,000 bloggers writing about this over the last couple days. :sigh: I guess I'm not so unique after all.

1 ♥ thoughtful comments ♥:

Amy said...

Whoa!! I have a few log-ins to change!! However, as a librarian I have always been bothered by the copyright infringement that is so rampant on YouTube. It is totally goes against my grain, though, that they would have access to every video that has ever been viewed by each user--that seems very non-standard in my world. It sounds like the Patriot Act is, indeed, trickling down. Very interesting!

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