We imagine there were a few nervous people up and down the UK last week, when a court ruled that Google-owned video-sharing site YouTube had to produce viewing history data for its 100m users as part of an ongoing $1bn copyright lawsuit. After all, few of us would probably want to admit to all the nonsense that we watch on YouTube on a regular basis – and that’s not to mention those people who could have faced charges for infringing copyright with their uploads.
However, Google has managed to strike a deal with Viacom (plus a group of other litigants led by English football’s FA Premier League). ‘We are pleased to report that Viacom, MTV and other litigants have backed off their original demand for all users' viewing histories and we will not be providing that information,’ the internet giant said last night. Under the terms of the agreement, they’ll now hand over a version of the viewing history database with all the user names and IP addresses stripped out – effectively making all the details anonymous. Cue sighs of relief all round…
Google has long protested that it’s doing all it can to avoid copyright infringement on YouTube, thanks to increasingly sophisticated video recognition software. But Viacom and co insisted it hadn’t gone far enough, and wanted the historical data so it could conduct a more thorough investigation of our viewing habits. Although given that about 2.5bn YouTube videos are watched every month, that would be one heck of a data crunching exercise…
Perhaps fearing the prospect of spending the next five years crawling through spreadsheets – or the attendant bad publicity – Viacom now seems to have settled for a compromise. And thanks to the courts, it’s also lost its fight to get its hands on users’ private videos and YouTube’s search and video ID technology. ‘Our lawyers strongly opposed each of those demands and the court sided with us,’ said Google, with just a hint of a smirk.
The news has naturally been welcomed by Google itself (‘we remain committed to protecting your privacy,’ it moral high-grounded today) and by privacy campaigners, who have been up in arms about the intrusive nature of Viacom’s demands. On the other hand, copyright rules exist for a reason – to protect the original content creators – and YouTube has definitely been a bit slow to put proper protections in place.
Still, at least now nobody will ever know just how many pointless viral videos we watch in the average week...
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