Google-Viacom court papers leave a lot to the imagination

A belated tip of the cap (in honor of St. Patrick's Day) to Irish wit Oscar Wilde, who wrote, "A dirty mind is a constant picnic." For the last several days the online video industry has wondered salaciously just what scandalous tidbits would come out when sealed documents relating to the YouTube-Viacom court battle were made public.

Sadly, the papers, requests for summary judgments from both sides, for the most part, are nearly as un-titillating as was mobster Al Capone's vault, which was opened on national TV to much (as it turns out unwarranted) fanfare 23 years ago.

What have we learned? So far, not much more than what already was suspected.

Viacom maintains YouTube uploaded copyrighted Viacom video, and claims it has emails to support the charge. Alas, the documents have only snippets of said emails, like this 2005 one from co-founder Chad Hurley to partners Steve Chen and Jawad Karim:

"Ok man, save your meal money for some lawsuits! ;) no really, I guess we'll just see what happens."

And this from Chen to Hurley and Karim in June of 2005:

"Jawed, please stop putting stolen videos on the site. We're going to have a tough time defending the fact that we're not liable for the copyrighted material on the site because we didn't put it up when one of the co-founders is blatantly stealing content from other sites and trying to get everyone to see it."

Of course the big reveal was that Viacom had its eyes on YouTube as an acquisition, seeing it as a potentially "transformative" pickup for the company. Instead, Google gobbled it up for $1.65 billion.

For its part, Google, maintains Viacom was fine with its content being uploaded to the site by the bushel... until it wasn't.

Google maintains that Viacom even had a major role in pushing the content online, either using employees or contractors to upload "roughed up" clips to make them look as if they had been stolen or leaked from production. An email snippet from a Spike network exec: "The goal is to make it look ‘hijacked.'

YouTube's chief legal counsel, Zahavah Levine, wrote on the site's blog:

"For years, Viacom continuously and secretly uploaded its content to YouTube, even while publicly complaining about its presence there.

"It hired no fewer than 18 different marketing agencies to upload its content to the site. It deliberately 'roughed up' the videos to make them look stolen or leaked.

"It opened YouTube accounts using phony email addresses. It even sent employees to Kinko's to upload clips from computers that couldn't be traced to Viacom."

The bottom line? Not much new from the newly released papers, it's still a battle over whether Viacom was harmed by Google's alleged copyright infringement (it claims there are 150,000 instances of copyright infringement on YouTube) and should get $1 billion, or whether Google was protected by federal law that holds a company isn't responsible for material uploaded by users, and simply has to remove it once notified by the content owners.

If you're tempted (random Wilde quote: "I can resist anything except temptation") you can wade through most of the Viacom documents here; Google's statement and cache of documents are available here.

For more:
- see this All Things Digital post
Related articles:
Judge in Viacom-Google battle wants some documents made public 
Viacom-Google spat nearing resolution 
Google, Viacom fight over employee records  
Preliminaries in Viacom v. YouTube