Viacom restrained from accessing user data

4 Jul 2008

Although Google has been ordered to hand over YouTube data to Viacom, it has emerged that a protective order has been issued and only the media giant’s lawyers can access the data to prove piracy.

This week, the entertainment company which owns channels such as MTV and Comedy Central won the right to demand information on all YouTube users from Google through a judge’s ruling.

This order came about as part of Viacom’s US$1bn lawsuit against Google for copyright infringement as a result of content uploaded by YouTube users. In February 2007, Viacom got a court order that saw YouTube take down 160,000 videos which apparently infringed copyright.

The decision has sparked outrage amongst digital civil liberty advocates, particularly the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

The court order states: “For each instance a video is watched, the unique ‘login ID’ of the user who watched it, the time when the user started to watch the video, the internet protocol address other devices connected to the internet use to identify the user’s computer and the identifier for the video” are all required.

However, a protective order stipulates that data turned over to Viacom must be used for the sole purpose of proving piracy of content is occurring on YouTube.

Viacom itself won’t have access to the data. Access is restricted to outside counsel and experts and the order threatens contempt of court if breached.

This move prevents Viacom from targeting individual users in the same manner as the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), which sued individuals caught downloading music illegally.

In a statement, Viacom acknowledged that the federal court decision has triggered concern about what information will be disclosed and how it will be used.

“Viacom has not asked for and will not be obtaining any personally identifiable information of any user.

“Any information we or our outside advisors obtain – which will not include personally identifiable information – will be used exclusively for the purpose of proving our case against You Tube and Google and will be handled subject to a court protective order and in a highly confidential manner,” Viacom said.

By John Kennedy

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years