Viacom Inc.’s legal effort to stop Google Inc.’s YouTube video-sharing site from posting copyrighted materials drew support from media rivals such as Time Warner Inc.
Viacom, owner of MTV Networks, said yesterday it is seeking $1 billion in damages for almost 160,000 clips it said were posted to YouTube without permission. New York-based News Corp. said companies are justified in asserting copyright claims, while Time Warner called on YouTube to clean up the site.
“This is a key issue for our industry,” Keith Cocozza, a spokesman for New York-based Time Warner, said yesterday. “It is time for YouTube to remove unauthorized material from its site.”
The world’s largest media companies are ratcheting up pressure on YouTube at the same time they negotiate agreements to get their content in front of the site’s more than 100 million users. Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., owner of the MySpace social networking site, and Viacom, which is chaired by Sumner Redstone, said last week they are working at creating YouTube rivals.
“It’s the classic Hollywood-Silicon Valley divide,” said Annette Hurst, a copyright lawyer with Heller Ehrman in San Francisco, who represented Napster Inc. founder Shawn Fanning. “The balance is slightly out of whack and the consumers are not benefiting.”
YouTube, bought by Mountain View, California-based Google for $1.65 billion last year, says it removes copyrighted material when owners protest. In February, the site agreed to remove more than 100,000 Viacom clips after the companies failed to agree on payments for use of the shows.
“YouTube has become even more popular since we took down Viacom’s material,” Google General Counsel Kent Walker said yesterday in a statement. “We think that’s a testament to the draw of the user-generated content on YouTube.”
“We have always been supportive of content companies protecting their copyright,” said Andrew Butcher, a spokesman for News Corp., the third-largest media company after Time Warner and Walt Disney Co. “We took a different approach on YouTube and asked them to take down content on a case-by-case basis.”
Disney spokesman Jonathan Friedland didn’t return messages seeking comment on Viacom’s lawsuit, while Shannon Jacobs, a spokeswoman for CBS Corp., declined to comment.“There are conversations with YouTube and Google going on of course,” Disney Chief Executive Officer Robert Iger said in an interview last month. “I’m pretty confident that we’ll reach a meeting of the minds.”
CBS Corp., the TV network owner that split off from Viacom at the beginning of last year, has an agreement to show clips on the site. YouTube also has deals with NBC Universal Inc. and British Broadcasting Corp.The complaint by Viacom, whose shows include “South Park” and “The Daily Show,” adds to Google’s other legal tussles, including lawsuits over its program to scan library books. The company hasn’t retreated, said Alexander Macgillivray, Google’s associate general counsel for products and intellectual property.
“We’re confident about our legal position and we won’t let this case distract us,” Macgillivray said in an interview. “Lawsuits are generally not a very good negotiating tactics with us.”