Media giant Viacom's copyright infringement case against Google took a new twist yesterday with a ruling by the federal court for the Southern District of New York.
Over Google's objection, the court ruled the search giant must give Viacom "all data from the logging database concerning each time a YouTube video has been viewed on the YouTube Web site or through embedding on a third-party Web site."
Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) owns YouTube.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a privacy advocacy group, was critical of the decision, which it said has the potential to expose individual YouTube users viewing history to Viacom. In a blog post, EFF's Kurt Opsahl said in part:
"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."
Google sent the following statement to InternetNews.com from its senior litigation counsel Catherine Lacavera.
"We are pleased the court put some limits on discovery, including refusing to allow Viacom to access users' private videos and our search technology. We are disappointed the court granted Viacom's overreaching demand for viewing history. We will ask Viacom to respect users' privacy and allow us to anonymize the logs before producing them under the court's order."
Viacom responded in a statement obtained by Reuters that it needs the data to demonstrate video-piracy patterns that are the heart of its case against YouTube and has no interest in identifying individual users.
"Viacom has not asked for and will not be obtaining any personally identifiable information of any user," Viacom said.
"Any information that we or our outside advisers obtain ... will be used exclusively for the purpose of proving our case against YouTube and Google [and] will be handled subject to a court protective order and in a highly confidential manner."
Viacom's long-running copyright infringement case against Google claims YouTube posts copyrighted videos owned by Viacom without permission. Viacom has been seeking $1 billion in damages.
In its defense, Google has claimed it has systems in place to quickly remove any copyrighted material after its owner has sent notification of any misuse and has also developed technology to better identify illegally posted material.
In its suit, Viacom said YouTube goes far beyond claims of being a site for people that want to share home movies and other personal video recordings. Viacom's suit says in part:
"The well-known reality of YouTube's business is far different. YouTube has filled its library with entire episodes and movies and significant segments of popular copyrighted programming from plaintiffs and other copyright owners that neither YouTube nor the users who submit the works are licensed to use in this manner."