colbert.pngViacom Inc. reported this morning that it is suing Google and YouTube for $1 billion (via the Washington Post, BBC News, the Blogging Times).

Honestly, the only thing that surprises me about this is that it didn't happen sooner. 

Apparently, Viacom, which owns brands including MTV, VH1, Comedy Central, BET, Nickelodeon, CMT, SpikeTV, Paramount and Dreamworks, believes that "almost 160,000 unauthorized clips of its programming have been uploaded onto YouTube's site and viewed more than 1.5 billion times."

Viacom is accusing Google and YouTube of massive copyright infringement. Go figure. 

From the Washington Post:

"YouTube's strategy has been to avoid taking proactive steps to curtail the infringement on its site," Viacom said in a statement. "Their business model, which is based on building traffic and selling advertising off of unlicensed content, is clearly illegal and is in obvious conflict with copyright laws."

I love watching YouTube videos as much as the next person.  I mean, should I be able to watch The Colbert Report on YouTube? Probably not. Do I think it's fun anyway? Absolutely.  But by allowing copyrighted material to appear on the site, YouTube is breaking the law. And apparently, according to Mark Cuban, the site has the ability to prevent copyrighted content from appearing on the site, but simply chooses not to:

Google in one breath says they can't monitor the uploading of the 60k or however many videos are uploaded per day. Yet according to the WSJ: "Viacom spokesman Carl Folta also took issue with the idea that YouTube would only make filtering available to companies who make deals a la Warner Music."
In other words, Google can filter everything and anything, but "chooses not to" unless you do a deal with them.
Rather than "doing no harm" and implementing a technology they say they have in place and saving the MILLIONS of small copyright owners time and money, they choose to save that technology and use it only for those big content owners they can swing deals with. Nice.

I think this is an important concept.  Obviously, no one is going to feel bad for a big company like Viacom, whose shows occasionally show up on YouTube.  But Cuban makes a good point when he brings up smaller copyright owners who might be losing out big time by having their content appear on YouTube. 

To put this in perspective, it would be like if I wrote a fantastic research paper for one of my master's classes, someone published online without my consent, and then millions of people read the paper, copied excerpts from it, and published it in their own papers or on their own websites without giving me proper credit. I would be getting totally ripped off.  For indie music/video creators who are on the rise, the publicity of YouTube helps (ie Ok Go), but they are definitely losing out on cash flow.

Anyway, the point of this post is that Viacom's lawsuit really does not surprise me in the least bit.  We've talked about YouTube and these issues before on TBR (so did Mark Cuban ), and I think that Viacom's suit is a long time coming.  Prediction: Unfortunately, Viacom, who is big enough not be intimidated by "GooTube" (as Mark Cuban calls it) is going to win. This has the potential to change YouTube permanently.

For the record, I spent some time on YouTube this morning searching for some of my favorite illegally published videos, like The Internet is a Series of Tubes, some old Nickelodeon shows, and South Park's Eric Cartman singing "Oh Holy Night".  I couldn't find them.  Coincidentally, these videos all originally appeared on networks owned by Viacom. However, if this is an attempt by "GooTube" to try and cover its bases, it's not doing a very good job.  If you look carefully, other videos, including  and various Chappelle Show and Stephen Colbert clips (also should be owned by Viacom), are still available.  Just thought that was worth noting.