YouTube versus Viacom: privacy does not matter

In 2007, Viacom launched a suit against YouTube for copyright infringement. Viacom requested $1 billion of damages. In this battle of giants, the latest court order is surprising.

L. Stanton, the senior judge on the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, ordered YouTube to deliver to Viacom the list of every YouTube username, the associated IP address and the videos that user has watched on YouTube. The objective of Viacom is to evaluate popularity of copyrighted content on the viewing habits of YouTube users. It seems obvious that this evaluation could have been done through anonymized data, as commonly done for statistics. Stanton dismissed Google’s argument that the order will violate user privacy, saying such privacy concerns are merely “speculative.”

More interestingly is that the judge refused to deliver the source code of YouTube software to Viacom to protect the business of YouTube. According to him, the source code could allow competitors to set up a similar system.

According to me, the judge through his decision offers to Viacom the treasure of YouTube. The business model of YouTube is to better know its users so to display more targeted, and thus higher value, advertisments to users. This has only value due to the huge database of collected user viewing habits, i.e., the one to be passed to Viacom. In YouTube software, the most valuable part is probably the profiling one that the judge could have isolated and protected. The rest of the software is available or deployed by many competitors.

Of course, EFF already fight against this breach of privacy.

This type of case becomes more and more complex requiring a good understanding of many fields in addition to legislation. Judges will have to understand technical details as well as business theories. The future of experts to the courts and testifiers seems bright.

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