Google Snaps at Viacom

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At stake in the showdown between Viacom and Google are all kinds of legally protected Internet communications, according to the Web-search giant.

Last week, Google responded to Viacom's copyright-infringement lawsuit, insisting Google and YouTube “respect” intellectual-property rights and that the media company's legal action “threatens the way hundreds of millions of people” use the Internet. Viacom in March filed suit over what it alleged was YouTube's “massive, intentional” stealing of its content and is seeking at least $1 billion in damages.

The Google response, filed April 30 with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, also asserted that both Google and YouTube “go above and beyond what the law requires” with regard to copyrighted material.

Google was referring specifically to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998, which provides immunity to Internet service providers from prosecution under copyright laws if a company has appropriate procedures in place to remove material when notified by the copyright holder.

“By seeking to make carriers and hosting providers liable for Internet communications, Viacom's complaint threatens the way hundreds of millions of people legitimately exchange information, news, entertainment, and political and artistic expression,” Google said in its response.

The DMCA, it said, “balances the rights of copyright holders and the need to protect the Internet as an important new form of communication.”

Viacom has essentially said that Google and YouTube forfeited their right to protections under the DMCA because YouTube's entire business model is based on members posted infringing content.

“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,” Viacom said in a statement in March.

The media company alleged that almost 160,000 clips of Viacom's programming have been available on YouTube without permission, and that these clips had been viewed more than 1.5 billion times.

Google closed its $1.65 billion acquisition of YouTube — whose 2006 revenues have been estimated to be no more than $15 million — in November.

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