NY Court Orders Youtube User Records Released

by Kelly O'Connell, Internet Business Law Services

In a move denounced by many Online Privacy advocates, a NY District Court has ordered YouTube to surrender its user logs to determine which videos are watched when and by whom. This order represents a marked change in current Privacy law. The order comes in relation to Viacom’s billion dollar suit against YouTube, the most popular Internet video website, which is owned by Google. Critics of the ruling claim that the order violates established statutory provisions and goes against basic common-law principles of the U.S. Bill of Rights. Further, some have warned the ruling will certainly be misused in the future, unless it is reigned in immediately. And, in response to the storm of criticism the ruling has generated, Google almost immediately created a privacy link to assuage its critics, taking viewers to a detailed description of their privacy policy.

This article will answer these questions in relation to the new YouTube user log ruling: What is the Viacom v. YouTube Case About?; What Did Judge Stanton Rule?; Is Judge Stanton’s Ruling Legal?; What is the Google Privacy Link?

What is the Viacom v. YouTube Case About?

Viacom Inc. and subsidiaries Comedy Partners, Country Music Television, Inc., Paramount Pictures Corporation, and Black Entertainment Television, LLC filed a lawsuit against YouTube and parent Google Inc. for copyright infringement in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York on March 13, 2007. The suit seeks a court ruling forcing Google and YouTube to comply with copyright laws and demands $1 billion in damages for 160,000 unauthorized clips of Viacom programming made available on YouTube. Viacom claims the clips have been viewed 1.5 billion times. Summarizing the suit Viacom stated, ‘There is no question that YouTube and Google are continuing to take the fruit of our efforts without permission and destroying enormous value in the process. This is value that rightfully belongs to the writers, directors, and talent who create it and companies like Viacom that have invested to make possible this innovation and creativity.’ Viacom requested that 100,000 videos be taken down in February, 2007, as detailed in the Digital Millennial Copyright Bill. YouTube complied.

What Did Judge Stanton Rule?

The new order denied Viacom’s request for the master source code from YouTube but ordered YouTube to compel production of all data from the Logging database concerning each time a YouTube video has been viewed on YouTube website or through embedding on a third-party website. Also, this ruling gives Viacom access to the ‘Logging Database,’ which is ‘all data from the Logging database concerning each time a YouTube video has been viewed on the YouTube website or through embedding on a third-party website.’

The ‘Logging Database’ is described as recording the following:

‘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 and used to identify the user’s computer (‘IP address’), and the identifier for the video.’

What exactly the ruling means for the future of online privacy is unclear. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a privacy advocacy group, criticized the decision as having the potential to expose individual YouTube users’ history without good reason. Kurt Opsahl from EFF said: "The court’s order grants Viacom’s request and erroneously ignores the protections of the federal Video Privacy Protection Act (VPPA), and threatens to expose deeply private information about what videos are watched by YouTube users. The VPPA was passed after a newspaper disclosed Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork’s video rental records. As Congress recognized, your selection of videos to watch is deeply personal and deserves the strongest protection."

Is Judge Stanton’s Ruling Legal?

Privacy groups claim Stanton ignored principles contained in the US Federal Code Title 18, Part I, Chapter 121,