The ongoing Google/YouTube-Viacom litigation has now officially spilled over to users with a court order requiring Google to turn over massive amounts of user data to Viacom. If the data is actually released, the consequences could be far more serious than the 2006 AOL Search debacle.
Louis L. Stanton, the senior judge on the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, issued the opinion and order, which is here (PDF).
That data includes every YouTube username, the associated IP address and the videos that user has watched on YouTube. Google will also be required to hand over copies of every video removed from Youtube for any reason (DMCA notices or user-initiated deletions). Stanton dismissed Google’s argument that the order will violate user privacy, saying such privacy concerns are merely “speculative.”
Meanwhile, the judge denied Viacom’s request that Google turn over YouTube’s source code as it could “cause catastrophic competitive harm to Google by sharing them with others who might create their own programs without making the same investment.”
I can understand why Judge Stanton, who graduated from law school in 1955, may be completely and utterly clueless when it comes to online video services. But perhaps one of his bright young clerks or interns could have told him that (1) handing over user names and a list of videos they’ve watched to a highly litigious copyright holder is extremely likely to result in lawsuits against those users that have watched copyrighted content on YouTube, and (2) YouTube’s source code is about as valuable as the hard drive it would be delivered on, since the core Flash technology is owned by Adobe and there are countless YouTube clones out there, most of which offer higher quality video.
YouTube’s core value is in it’s network effect – the library of content along with its massive user base.
The privacy fallout of this ruling is spectacular. The EFF has already chimed in, noting that the order is highly likely to be in violation of federal law.
Judge Stanton doesn’t seem to care much about that law, for now. And he clearly doesn’t understand that far more data is being transferred than is necessary to comply with Viacom’s core stated concern, which is to understand the popularity of copyright infringing v. non-infringing material. Viacom has asked for far more data than that, and there’s only one use for that data: to sue individual users (or shake them down via the threat of lawsuit, which has been perfected by the RIAA) who have watched a few music videos or television shows on YouTube.
I say this with the utmost respect, but Judge Stanton is a moron. And Google simply cannot hand this data over without facing a class action lawsuit of staggering proportions.