People Realizing That Viacom's Filings Take YouTube Quotes Totally Out Of Context

from the this-looks-worse-and-worse dept

I had pointed this out in a comment yesterday, but with so many press reports suggesting that Viacom’s filing found some sort of “smoking gun” in the YouTube emails concerning founders talking about “stealing” videos, it’s worth pointing out that Viacom appears to have taken these quotes totally out of context. Thankfully, TechCrunch is putting some of them right back into context and noticing that Viacom is clearly misrepresenting what YouTube’s founders were talking about. The key quote that Viacom (and many in the press) are highlighting is the following:

In a July 29,2005 email about competing video websites, YouTube co-founder Steve Chen wrote to YouTube co-founders Chad Hurley and Jawed Karim, “steal it!”, and Chad Hurley responded: “hmm, steal the movies?”

That looks damning, right? Except the context shows that they weren’t talking about copyright infringement of big name Hollywood content at all. They were talking about looking at other viral video sites that were popular on the fringes at the time — usually showing random silly homemade videos that went viral and putting those videos on YouTube. Furthermore, when you see the full discussion, you can see that in the context, they were joking about taking that content. Really, they were discussing what kind of site they wanted YouTube to be: should it be for more serious videos, or should they focus on those kinds of traffic-getting viral videos. In fact, in the context of the discussion, they play up the fact that their content is user-generated, rather than pulled from outside sources:


Jul 29, 2005 1:05 AM, Steve Chen wrote:

steal it!

Jul 29, 2005 1 :25 AM, Chad Hurley wrote:

hmm, steal the movies?

Jul 29, 2005 1 :33 AM, Steve Chen wrote:

haha ya.

or something.

just something to watch out for. check out their alexa ranking.


Jul 29, 2005 7:45 AM, Chad Hurley wrote:

hmm, i know they are getting a lot of traffic? but it?s because they are a of site. they might make enough money to pay hosing bills, but sites like this and will never go public. I would really like to build something more valuable and more useful. actually build something that people will talk about and changes the way people use video on the internet.

Jul 29 2005 6:51 AM, Steve Chen wrote:

right, i understand those goals but, at the same time, we have to keep in mind that we need to attract traffic. how much traffic will we get from the personal videos? remember, the only reason why our traffic surged was due to a video of this type. i?m not really disagreeing with you but i also think we shouldn?t be so high & mighty and think we?re better than these guys. viral videos will tend to be THOSE type of videos.

Jul 29 2005 6:56 AM, Steve Chen Wrote:

another thing. still a fundamental difference between us and most of those other sites. we do have a community and it?s ALL user generated content.


Not quite the discussion that Viacom implies. In fact, the more you look at the full context of almost every quote that Viacom and the press are playing up, the more and more Viacom’s entire argument crumbles.

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Companies: google, viacom, youtube

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Comments on “People Realizing That Viacom's Filings Take YouTube Quotes Totally Out Of Context”

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Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: nice but no cigar

This oft repeated teardown of a single quote from an 80+ page court filling is erroneous and misleading.

Normally, when you say something is erroneous and misleading, you explain why.

We have put the quote back into context for everyone to see, and from reading that it seems clear that the only teardown that is erroneous and misleading is the one in Viacom’s filing.

And the problem is that while Viacom’s filing is quite long, the only really “damaging” point is the claim that YouTube execs supported “stealing.” But the problem is that when you put those quotes back into context, you see that Viacom is not being truthful.

Viacom’s case is melting away.

Josh Chalifour (profile) says:

Just One Problem with E-mails as Evidence

Having been involved in a lawsuit where internal e-mails were used as damning evidence in the case, I can see how easy it is to have these messages totally misrepresented.

Companies involved in lawsuits now, must during the early discovery period, collect massive quantities of documentation from years of saved up e-mails, which the lawyers then use in their cases. This is a huge huge problem because of the nature of e-mail.

Without even getting into the reliability of who actually wrote what, these messages are way too easy to be taken out of context and thus have their meanings represented to non-participants (anyone outside the original conversation) in a way that’s simply wrong. The example in this article illustrates this.

Writing an e-mail often tends to seemlessly refer to conversations, activities, and other background context that is outside of anything stated within the e-mail. It just gets worse when there are back-and-forth e-mail threads, where sometimes a whole thread is captured, other times only portions of it are sent to various participants, and they can even respond without knowing the full context, thus sending the e-mail discussion down a different path.

So e-mail archives are like semi-permanent records of things that occured but they’re simultaneously very unreliable as records because they do not capture any of the “real world” context in which they occurred. And that context is frequently day-to-day trivia in people’s memories so it’s lost of faulty when lawyers try to resurrect it after a few years.

This is a reason why some companies implement mandatory e-mail destruction policies after a period of time. It’s not that there’s anything a company necessarily wishes to hide, but rather completely innocent conversations can be perverted into unintended meanings. Too bad that justice systems are able to be gamed like the example in this article shows.

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