Viacom sues YouTube for $1Billion, but then what?

by on May 30, 2008 · 9 comments

As the Viacom’s lawsuit against YouTube and its parent company Google rolls forward, it’s worth asking if any outcome of the suit will change the situation for Viacom. In fact, were the impossible to happen, like a judge shutting down YouTube altogether, Viacom may be worse off.

CNET’s coverage of the piece sites an anonymous source from Viacom who notes that “The company basically is paying for an entire new department to watch YouTube.”

But imagine how difficult it will be to police amateur video without YouTube or other video sharing sites around—it’d be impossible. That’s because even if huge repositories of video are made illegal, web-based video won’t just disappear, it’ll move.

Our favorite cute kitten videos could end up on the same foreign servers that are serving up online poker and other forms of gambling to Americans each day, despite that activity being made illegal by the last Congress. (That was a Repubican Congress, the guys who stay out of your lives.) Just like Sierra Leone lent its flag to pirate broadcasters in the 1960s, it may rent its servers to pirate video broadcasters of the web variety.

On the other hand, videos could move to smaller websites domestically, even individual blogs and web pages. But the location doesn’t really matter, either scenario would be bad for content creators. Balkanizing videos and making them harder to find makes them harder to police. Similarly, moving video from larger sites run by legitimate, domestic businesses manes take-down notices might not be honored.

It’s possible that YouTube could function similarly as an index, just as Google does for web content. But the Torrent Spy case suggests that even “contributory” copyright infringement—making the copyright-infringing material easier to find—is just as illegal as hosting it in the first place. This means that even video search could be off the table if the principles of the DMCA aren’t upheld.

Ultimately, I just don’t see what Viacom thinks it’s getting out of this lawsuit, other than the obvious benefit that comes with $1 billion in cold hard cash. To think this move will suddenly make the realities of web-based video go away is foolish at best. It might be hard for some to accept, but we just can’t make it 2004 again.

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