Viacom, YouTube Trade Barbs In Copyright Feud

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Viacom "continuously and secretly uploaded its content to YouTube" and deliberately made them look stolen or leaked, a YouTube executive wrote in a blog post Thursday, while the media company pointed to e-mails sent by YouTube executives that it claimed showed they knowingly engaged in piracy.

The accusations flew after a New York federal court released previously sealed documents filed in Viacom's billion-dollar lawsuit against Google.

According to one of the documents, YouTube co-founder Steve Chen wrote in a July 19, 2005, e-mail to co-founders Jawed Karim and Chad Hurley: "Jawed, please stop putting stolen videos on the site... We're going to have a tough time defending the fact that we're not liable for the copyrighted material on the site because we didn't put it up when one of the co-founders is blatantly stealing content from other sites and trying to get everyone to see it."

In response, YouTube in a statement Thursday said that e-mail referred to "aviation videos" and that "the exchange has nothing to do with supposed piracy of media content." Karim left YouTube before Google acquired the site in 2006 in a deal worth around $1.7 billion.

Meanwhile, YouTube chief counsel Zahavah Levine, in a blog post, alleged that Viacom hired at least 18 different marketing agencies to upload content to the site.

Viacom "deliberately ‘roughed up' the videos to make them look stolen or leaked," she wrote. "It opened YouTube accounts using phony e-mail addresses. It even sent employees to Kinko's to upload clips from computers that couldn't be traced to Viacom."

Moreover, Levine wrote, "Executives as high up as the president of Comedy Central and the head of MTV Networks felt ‘very strongly' that clips from shows like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report should remain on YouTube."

Viacom did not respond to a request for comment on Levine's specific accusations. In its lawsuit, filed in March 2007, Viacom charged the video-sharing site with "massive intentional copyright infringement of Viacom's entertainment properties." The media company seeks at least $1 billion in damages.

Google and YouTube have sought protection under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The DMCA grants online service providers immunity from copyright liability if they remove unauthorized content after they receive a "takedown" notice from the copyright holder.

Levine said Viacom's surreptitious activity made the process of determining which videos should stay and which should come down especially difficult.

"Viacom's efforts to disguise its promotional use of YouTube worked so well that even its own employees could not keep track of everything it was posting or leaving up on the site," Levine wrote. "As a result, on countless occasions Viacom demanded the removal of clips that it had uploaded to YouTube, only to return later to sheepishly ask for their reinstatement. In fact, some of the very clips that Viacom is suing us over were actually uploaded by Viacom itself."

According to Google, the YouTube Content ID system -- which is supposed to identify copyrighted material that is uploaded to the site -- is used by 1,000 media companies including every major U.S. network broadcaster, movie studio and record label. Most of those companies "choose to make money from user uploaded clips rather than block them," Levine added.

Separately, Viacom last week pulled full episodes of Comedy Central's The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report from Hulu, the Internet-TV site owned by News Corp., NBC Universal and Walt Disney Co. Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman said at an investor conference the company would considering renewing a deal if Hulu "can get to the point where the monetization model is better."

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