The legal battle that started in March of 2007 between juggernauts Viacom and Google is finally starting to come to a close. Viacom, who sued Google (the parent company of YouTube) for “massive intentional” copyright infringement of Viacom’s entertainment properties, has been trying to get at the user data that Google stores about its YouTube users. This information contains browsing history, usernames, IP addresses, and other pieces of “confidential” information about YouTube users, and has been the topic of much discussion concerning internet freedoms. The judge ruled in favor of Viacom, and now the heat is on as Google prepares itself to offer up its users to clutches of Viacom. As you can imagine, this invokes a lot of strong feelings for YouTube users and the YouTube community as a whole.
The good news to this is that as the case is settling, Viacom is getting more and more heat from the public and the media, which is putting Viacom in a position to lessen the severity of the demands they are trying to exact from Google. They have compromised in a relinquishing of information, but under the tenants that anonymity will be preserved. Google plans on sculpting the data in a fashion that will remove the user’s viewing history, and will try to the best of its ability to remove any individually identifying factors for the data pool it must give Viacom.
It’s interesting (and relieving) to think that a corporate giant such as Viacom, who started out with such sharp accusations and demands, is at least maintaining some level of consideration for the YouTube public. The outcry that the public had over Viacom’s original interest in very personal and detailed user information was loud and far reaching. The YouTube community had a petition signed and sent to the judge who made the ruling, along with a website created expressly for the protest of Viacom trying to steal their user histories. It’s easy to think that perhaps Viacom underestimated the strength and willingness of the public to try and fight back against them, and it might be a big part of the reason that they are compromising with Google to only be able to get the information in a certain fashion.
As savvy internet users we are all facing ever increasing crossroads between the “law” and the “freedom” of the internet. It seems like each year (or maybe even more than once a year) there is some new case being presented in court that’s outcome greatly dictates what kind of freedoms and hindrances we will be facing in the online world. It is up to each of us to continually appraise how we feel about this and to stand up and speak out if and when we feel threatened, much like the YouTube community. The internet can still be a pretty lawless place but that doesn’t mean we have to fold each and every time a corporate institution tries to institute a set of laws.