Viacom Vying for Your YouTube User Records

A ruling released July 1st in the copyright infringement case Viacom v. Google has created a stir in the online world. Judge Louis L. Stanton in the U.S. federal New York Southern District Court ordered Google to produce to Viacom:

all data from the Logging database concerning each time a YouTube video has been viewed on the YouTube website or through embedding on a third-party website

According to a July 2nd blog post by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF):

Google correctly argued that “the data should not be disclosed because of the users’ privacy concerns,” citing the VPPA, 18 U.S.C. § 2710. However, the Court dismissed this argument with no analysis, stating “defendants cite no authority barring them from disclosing such information in civil discovery proceedings, and their privacy concerns are speculative.”

On July 4th the New York Times reported:

The order raised concerns among YouTube users and privacy advocates that the video viewing habits of tens of millions of people could be exposed. But Google and Viacom said they were hoping to come up with a way to protect the anonymity of the site’s visitors.

Viacom also said that the information would be safeguarded by a protective order restricting access to the data to outside lawyers, who will use it solely to press Viacom’s $1 billion copyright suit against Google.

Still, the judge’s order, which was made public late Wednesday, renewed concerns among privacy advocates that Internet companies like Google are collecting unprecedented amounts of private information that could be misused or fall unexpectedly into the hands of third parties.

“These very large databases of transactional information become honey pots for law enforcement or for litigants,” said Chris Hoofnagle, a senior fellow at the Berkeley Center for Law and Technology.

The Privacy Commissioner of Canada blog puts a Canadian spin on the issue:

Will Canadians viewing YouTube have their histories handed over as well? Almost certainly as US federal law provides no privacy protections for ‘personal data submitted to search engines or for IP addresses’. The Globe and Mail has reported that “the judge set no specific geographic limitations on the data Google must produce, meaning user names and Internet protocol (IP) addresses of millions of Canadians and other YouTube users outside the U.S. could also be at risk.”

Can an IP address be used to isolate individuals? Quite easily. Have you been accessing illegal content online? We hope not, now that Viacom’s lawyers have your number.

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Comments

  1. This is a complete invasion of privacy on the part of Viacom and our user information doesn’t have any relevance to their billion dollar lawsuit against Google. Google should be able to anatomize the user information before handing over the 12 terabytes of information so my privacy and the privacy of millions like me are protected. I have a campaign that will force Viacom to allow Google/YouTube to protect us or 100,000 will boycott Viacom and all its subsidiaries: https://www.thepoint.com/campaigns/stop-viacom-from-invading-our-you-tube-privacy

  2. Thank you for the note, Stephen.

  3. The rights of copyholders are now taking a back seat to individual’s right of privacy. The public’s alleged concern about an invasion of privacy by Viacom – if indeed that concern is real — is due to the public’s ignorance of how the legal system works.

    Yet, we, the public, have been down this “invasion of privacy” road before with the music industry. We should not be surprised by this turn of events. Nor should we readily trust the government, the court system, or corporate America to protect that right when there is big money to be made by them at our expense.

    Like it or not, YouTube users are part and parcel to the law suit between Viacom and YouTube/Google. Users unwittingly put themselves in a position of risk by simply using YouTube’s services and/or becoming a YouTube member. Yet, YouTube, knowing full well the legal risks it was taking by allowing videos to be stored, routed and transferred via their hard drives and systems, never once offered to indemnify any of its users against becoming embroiled in YouTube’s legal troubles. Yes, issuing warnings and guidelines to users helps YouTube’s defense, but it never prevents someone from filing a suit. (There’s probably a lawyer out there who sees a class-action products liability suit against YouTube by its users for YouTube failing to warn its users of this foreseeable danger of a lawsuit that gives outsiders access to users private information as part of discovery.)

    Users should never forget that we all live in a very litigious society. What the average Joe (or Joanne) Public doesn’t realize is that in almost every state and federal civil case, lawyers on both sides are granted discovery – quite liberally and without much hesitation by the courts. A non-party’s right to privacy is almost always forfeited when that party becomes embroiled in another party’s lawsuit. Ask any innocent person who has been deposed, or subpoenaed to produce private documents, or required to testify in court as part of someone else’s legal problems – just because you were at the wrong place at the wrong time (Currently, a friend is going through a divorce, and the husband’s attorney has subpoenaed all sorts of family, friends, former employers, and ex-boyfriends of over 10 years to testify against the wife, and to produce certain documents and records. the larger the scope of discovery, the bigger the billable hours, all under the guise of zealously representing the client). This is what has happened in this Viacom v. YouTube case. Discovery was liberally granted according to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

    On the other hand, it’s fascinating that people readily join on-line public forums like YouTube, FaceBook, Diggs, a Yahoo group, etc., post not only videos and pictures, but all kinds of personal information about themselves in such a way that is already an invasion of their privacy. They chat with perfect strangers in a public forum, and now they are allegedly concerned about an invasion of privacy by Viacom under a protection order??? Yet again, how many people provide false information when applying for membership to an on-line group not requiring a credit card? If most people lie on-line as a way to protect their privacy, what are we worried about – protecting the invasion of false information?

    User’s private information is safer in the hands of Viacom under a court order than in the hands of YouTube. Just check how YouTube uses, distributes and allows third-parties access to users’ private information — the same information Viacom is requesting: http://youtube.com/t/privacy.

    And what about the rights of privacy that are being violated by individuals? Videos are being shot and then uploaded to public forums including YouTube without first getting the permission of the people in the videos?

    How much does anyone one want to wagers that less than 1% of 1% of the YouTube users have ever read any portion of “how” YouTube uses their personal information? And now the public is supposedly worried about privacy issues – or are they?

    Seems to me that when a person posts information about themselves, uploads pictures and videos of themselves, family and friends, on a public forum, chats with total strangers, s/he has already waived his/her rights to privacy in some capacity. Granted, it’ his/her privacy, and s/he has a right to determine who gets a piece of it, and when – that is, unless s/he part of a law suit. Then the court gets to decide. If people don’t want the hassle of determining who gets what when and how much of his/her privacy, then don’t use YouTube and other such services.

    Even if one of the outcomes of this suit between Viacom and YouTube upholds users’ rights to privacy, the law is inherently fickle. What is considered a safe bet today, could be overturned by case law tomorrow. Anyone who is familiar they way in which the courts apply the Establishment Clause that separate church and state can easily attest to what I’m saying is true.

    Who really and truly needs a YouTube type of service to store and route private videos and other information anyway? Let’s remember the ability of some hackers to get into computer systems. Nothing is fool-proof. Persons with criminal intent, and devious minds can get to a person who posts info on a public forum without hacking the site. If it’s private, don’t make it public. If you intend it to be public, than you have to assume the associated risks.

    If you want to talk about protecting copyrights, I agree with Viacom. YouTube can certainly do a better job of policing copyrights. YouTube / Google has already admitted to have some type of “secret” search mechanisms worth thousands of man-years of work. But it makes more money by being lazy about it.

    It’s obvious that anyone who uploads to YouTube a video with “Madonna,” “American Idol,” “New Kids On The Block,” “Kelly Ripa,” or a movie title like “Hancock,” in the video’s title is an infringement of someone’s copyrights. If it was being uploaded by the copyright holder, the copyright holder would be a “partner” masking money off the video.

    Any one can search by those names in the title, but YouTube claims it can’t use the same trade secret search mechanism to find these same video uploaded by infringers. Yet, YouTube has “Sponsored Links” specific to some user videos — like those with “Madonna,” “New Kids On The Block,” etc. — in the title. The “Sponsored Links” link visitors to other websites offering Madonna “stuff” for sale… and who pay YouTube for the privilege of being a “Sponsored Link.” Go figure!rights of copyholders are now taking a back seat to individual’s right of privacy. The public’s alleged concern about an invasion of privacy by Viacom – if indeed that concern is real — is due to the public’s ignorance of how the legal system works.

    Yet, we, the public, have been down this “invasion of privacy” road before with the music industry. We should not be surprised by this turn of events. Nor should we readily trust the government, the court system, or corporate America to protect that right when there is big money to be made by them at our expense.

    Like it or not, YouTube users are part and parcel to the law suit between Viacom and YouTube/Google. Users unwittingly put themselves in a position of risk by simply using YouTube’s services and/or becoming a YouTube member. Yet, YouTube, knowing full well the legal risks it was taking by allowing videos to be stored, routed and transferred via their hard drives and systems, never once offered to indemnify any of its users against becoming embroiled in YouTube’s legal troubles. Yes, issuing warnings and guidelines to users helps YouTube’s defense, but it never prevents someone from filing a suit. (There’s probably a lawyer out there who sees a class-action products liability suit against YouTube by its users for YouTube failing to warn its users of this foreseeable danger of a lawsuit that gives outsiders access to users private information as part of discovery.)

    Users should never forget that we all live in a very litigious society. What the average Joe (or Joanne) Public doesn’t realize is that in almost every state and federal civil case, lawyers on both sides are granted discovery – quite liberally and without much hesitation by the courts. A non-party’s right to privacy is almost always forfeited when that party becomes embroiled in another party’s lawsuit. Ask any innocent person who has been deposed, or subpoenaed to produce private documents, or required to testify in court as part of someone else’s legal problems – just because you were at the wrong place at the wrong time (Currently, a friend is going through a divorce, and the husband’s attorney has subpoenaed all sorts of family, friends, former employers, and ex-boyfriends of over 10 years to testify against the wife, and to produce certain documents and records. the larger the scope of discovery, the bigger the billable hours, all under the guise of zealously representing the client). This is what has happened in this Viacom v. YouTube case. Discovery was liberally granted according to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

    On the other hand, it’s fascinating that people readily join on-line public forums like YouTube, FaceBook, Diggs, a Yahoo group, etc., post not only videos and pictures, but all kinds of personal information about themselves in such a way that is already an invasion of their privacy. They chat with perfect strangers in a public forum, and now they are allegedly concerned about an invasion of privacy by Viacom under a protection order??? User’s private information is safer in the hands of Viacom under a court order than in the hands of YouTube. Just check how YouTube uses, distributes and allows third-parties access to users’ private information — the same information Viacom is requesting: http://youtube.com/t/privacy.

    And what about the rights of privacy that are being violated by individuals? Videos are being shot and then uploaded to public forums including YouTube without first getting the permission of the people in the videos?

    How much does anyone one want to wagers that less than 1% of 1% of the YouTube users have ever read any portion of “how” YouTube uses their personal information? And now the public is supposedly worried about privacy issues – or are they?

    Seems to me that when a person posts information about themselves, uploads pictures and videos of themselves, family and friends, on a public forum, chats with total strangers, s/he has already waived his/her rights to privacy in some capacity. Granted, it’ his/her privacy, and s/he has a right to determine who gets a piece of it, and when – that is, unless s/he part of a law suit. Then the court gets to decide. If people don’t want the hassle of determining who gets what when and how much of his/her privacy, then don’t use YouTube and other such services.

    Even if one of the outcomes of this suit between Viacom and YouTube upholds users’ rights to privacy, the law is inherently fickle. What is considered a safe bet today, could be overturned by case law tomorrow. Anyone who is familiar with the Establishment Clause and how the courts and government apply the laws that separate church and state can easily attest to what I’m saying is true.

    Who really and truly needs a YouTube type of service to store and route private videos and other information anyway? Let’s remember the ability of some hackers to get into computer systems. Nothing is fool-proof. Persons with criminal intent, and devious minds can get to a person who posts info on a public forum without hacking the site. If it’s private, don’t make it public. If you intend it to be public, than you have to assume the associated risks.

    If you want to talk about protecting copyrights, I agree with Viacom. YouTube can certainly do a better job of policing copyrights. YouTube / Google has already admitted to have some type of “secret” search mechanisms worth thousands of man-years of work. But it makes more money by being lazy about it.

    It’s obvious that anyone who uploads to YouTube a video with “Madonna,” “American Idol,” “New Kids On The Block,” “Kelly Ripa,” or a movie title like “Hancock,” in the video’s title is an infringement of someone’s copyrights. If it was being uploaded by the copyright holder, the copyright holder would be a “partner” making money off the video. Hence, YouTube would not be guilty of aiding and abetting copyright violations.

    Any one can search by those obvious names/terms/phrases in order to find those videos on YouTube. But YouTube claims it can’t use the same trade secret search mechanism to find these same videos uploaded by infringers. The same videos that any one else can find, and we don’t have the formula for the trade secret search mechanism. Yet, YouTube has “Sponsored Links” specific to some user videos — like those with “Madonna,” “New Kids On The Block,” etc. in the title. The “Sponsored Links” links visitors to other websites offering Madonna (New Kids On The Block,” etc. ) “stuff” for sale… and those “sponsors” pay YouTube directly for the privilege of being a “Sponsored Link.” Go figure!

  4. Wow – that’s a thoughtful comment. Thanks so much