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Viacom Wants to Know What You’ve Been Watching

As you may or may not be aware, US District Court Judge Louis Stanton has ordered Google/YouTube to provide personally identifying information to Viacom, completely ignoring any privacy concerns. There is a good chance this order will be overturned on appeal, as it is in violation of the Video Privacy Protection Act. But, the judge did deny Viacom’s request for Google’s super secret source code for searching through those video clips. Isn’t it nice to know that judges are protecting corporations even while completely disregarding the privacy rights of citizens?

You can watch this video for more details.

It really shouldn’t be the end-viewer’s responsibility to determine the copyright status of a clip they view on YouTube. It should also be noted that some media corporations do actually upload their own clips on YouTube for viewing. Given that, it makes it much more difficult for the end-user to determine whether a clip is on YouTube with the copyright holder’s permission or not.

No one is arguing that Viacom shouldn’t have the right to demand that videos which infringe upon their copyrights be removed, but they should not be granted data on who watches what. Now, in cases where a user uploaded a video infringing upon their copyright, that would be acceptable. You’re asked not to upload copyrighted material when you upload something to YouTube, so if you’re willfully infringing upon copyrights, the copyright owner(s) have the right to know. But, for the casual viewer? Come on.

If anything, big media corporations should learn from YouTube. YouTube videos are almost universally viewable. Most people do not have to download any special plugins or viewers to watch a video, as many modern browsers come with all the plugins and features needed to view videos. More people would view videos right from the media company’s own website if they were in a common format. People do not like to download stuff just to watch a video, especially if they have to download different viewers for each website they visit. And, some of the worse ones are the websites that don’t even offer a viewer for the platform the user is on. Thus, viewers go to YouTube.

It’s like watching TV. You just want to flip to different channels. You don’t want to have to get up and adjust your set for each station. Sure, some people probably still have to do that, but many times, those people will just stick with the channels that come in good and not even bother with the rest.

And, if you watch something on TV, are you supposed to first find out if the broadcaster has the right to air that program? Are you, as a viewer, supposed to call them up prior to each show and ask them if they have all the rights necessary to air a specific program?

How is YouTube any different? If YouTube carries videos that infringe upon other’s copyrights, how is that the viewer’s responsibility to make that determination? Before we watch a video, should we eMail YouTube and specifically ask them if that specific video is okay for us to watch?

Once this data gets into Viacom’s hands, who knows what they will do with it? Who knows if one day they might come after you for watching a video on YouTube, demanding money for it? Pay up or go to court. And, you’ll probably have to pay up, as it will be cheaper for you than hiring a lawyer to defend you.

Of course, maybe they’re counting on people to be apathetic. And, that could be a good bet. The last time I wrote about your rights being trampled, the response was largely apathetic (only 2 people left a comment).

But, if you’re really offended by Viacom trying to unearth your viewing habits online, then you could always consider boycotting products and programs they offer. Here is a list of companies they own (according to Wikipedia) that you could try to avoid, if you’re concerned about this in any way:

That means no more Jon Stewart, Star Trek or Spongebob Squarepants.

Then again, maybe nobody cares about their privacy anymore.

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1 Comment »

2008-07-08 08:17:18

[...] of the Google-Viacom situation brewing. It concerns your privacy – check out Dan’s article Viacom Wants to Know What You’ve Been Watching to get [...]

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