Thursday, July 3, 2008

YouTube ordered to hand over user details

YOUTUBE has been ordered to give up records of each clip watched on the popular video-sharing website, along with the date, time and IP address of each person who watched it, to media giant Viacom.

In a ruling that could have major implications for online privacy around the world, US District Court judge Louis Stanton granted Viacom access to the records as part of its ongoing copyright infringement lawsuit against Google and its subsidiary YouTube.

Each time a video is played, YouTube's "Logging" database records the user ID and IP address of the viewer, the date and time of the request and the ID of the clip – and includes details of videos embedded on websites other than YouTube.

"While the Logging database is large, all of its contents can be copied onto a few 'over-the-shelf' four-terabyte hard drives," Judge Stanton said, in response to Google's claim that providing the data would be too difficult.

"The motion to compel production of 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 is granted."

Viacom sought access to the database in a bid to prove that clips allegedly infringing copyright, such as scenes from TV shows and movies, were more popular than user-generated videos.

Online rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation said the decision stood at odds with US privacy laws and was a "setback to privacy rights".

"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," said a statement on the group's website.

"We urge Viacom to back off this overbroad request and Google to take all steps necessary to challenge this order and protect the rights of its users."

Judge Stanton denied Viacom's requests for access to other Google and YouTube properties, including the search engine's source code – including the algorithms it uses to provide search results.

Viacom began legal action against YouTube in February 2007, when it issued over 100,000 takedown notices to the website regarding material in beach of copyright.

In March 2007, the media giant instigated a $US1 billion lawsuit against Google and YouTube, alleging that the video-sharing website hosted over 150,000 unauthorised clips that had been viewed more than 1.5 billion times.

Viacom's media empire includes Paramount Pictures, MTV, DreamWorks and Nickelodeon.

It is not known if Google will challenge the decision.


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