Viacom, Google settle their differences, while Google reveals 'super-flagger' program

Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) and Viacom (NYSE: VIA) have settled out of court over a contentious, $1 billion copyright infringement battle that had been going on since 2007, when Google first purchased YouTube. Settlement details were not released, but reportedly no money changed hands in the deal.

When Viacom, which had been chasing down online video copyright violators for several years with limited success, filed the suit against YouTube, it was considered a threat to the way the Web worked.

The court ruled largely for Google in 2010, but Viacom appealed. That appeal was knocked down in 2013, and Viacom appealed again, setting the stage for negotiations ahead of a court appearance that was scheduled for March 24.

A number of reasons may be behind Viacom and Google reaching an agreement. When Viacom, which had been chasing down online video copyright violators for several years with limited success, filed the suit against YouTube, it was considered "a threat to the way the Web worked," according to a re/code article. But the initial ruling for Google cooled some of that worry. Meantime, technology and the market itself changed.

Google implemented a ContentID system that enabled content owners to track their copyrighted videos across YouTube. And third-party content trackers like BroadbandTV implemented various options allowing content owners to gently enforce copyright, such as giving violators the choice of placing advertising banners or pre-roll ads on the videos with related revenues going back to the content owner--rather than taking down the content and/or facing onerous fines.

That, plus the growth of SVOD services like Netflix (Nasdaq: NFLX) rose to prominence in the same time frame, giving viewers access to much more licensed content and reducing the incentive to illegally upload videos.

While the ContentID system is far from perfect, it's not unreasonable to think the technology may have played a role in thawing relations between Google and Viacom.

"This settlement reflects the growing collaborative dialogue between our two companies on important opportunities, and we look forward to working more closely together," a joint statement released Tuesday said.

In somewhat related news, Google has authorized 200 groups worldwide as "super-flaggers" of content that violates YouTube's terms of use--up to 20 videos at a time--a practice that one Twitter user defined as a "hit squad" tactic. The content flagging program is a different effort than its copyright infringement program.

While one source told The Wall Street Journal that less than 10 participants are government agencies or non-government groups like child protection organizations and the rest are individuals, at least one law enforcement agency is involved. The UK's Metropolitan Police Counter Terrorism Internet Referral Unit has been using the super-flagger designation to flag for review videos it thinks are "extremist."

According to WSJ, more than 90 percent of videos flagged for review by super-flaggers are removed or restricted, a much higher rate than content flagged by regular users, according to their source.

For more:
- re/code has this story
- here's FierceCable's coverage
- The Wall Street Journal has this coverage

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