Viacom Gets To Find Out What YouTube Videos You Watched

from the not-good dept

In the ongoing trainwreck that is Viacom's misguided lawsuit against YouTube (the one they would be better off losing) a judge has come out with a ruling on evidence that Google has to hand over to Viacom -- and it's being portrayed in the press as both a win and a loss for Google. On the "win" side, Google does not have to hand over the YouTube source code (or the source code of its filtering system). This makes sense, as the source code is rather meaningless here, and this request was clearly a reach from the start.

However, much more troublesome is the judge's ruling that Google does need to hand over log files including the IP address and usernames of people who viewed YouTube videos. This represents a huge violation of privacy and a clear violation of the Video Privacy Protection Act (VPPA). This was the law we were just discussing, due to a lawsuit concerning Blockbuster revealing rental info via Facebook's Beacon program. It was originally passed after the video rental history of Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork was released in the press. The idea is that what movies you rent should be private info not to be shared.

The court pretty much ignored this law, only mentioning it in a footnote, suggesting that it only applies to video tapes. But, as the EFF points out in the link above, the law actually says "prerecorded video cassette tapes or similar audio visual materials." But, more to the point, it is not at all clear why Viacom should need this specific information. If it wants to show numbers of people who viewed certain videos, it seems that aggregate info should be sufficient. Having Google hand over much more info doesn't seem to serve any purpose related to the legal questions involved in the case. Update: There are now claims that Viacom will be very limited in how the data can be used -- with the threat of a contempt of court charge if anyone other than the lawyers involved in the case and specific experts see the data, but that's really not sufficient for privacy purposes. There's no way to make sure the data only stays in those hands, and even so it's still a violation of the privacy of users.
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Filed Under: lawsuits, log files, video rentals
Companies: google, viacom, youtube

Reader Comments

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  1. icon
    PaulT (profile), 3 Jul 2008 @ 9:55am


    Maybe someone can explain this to me here: how would getting the IP addresses of people who have watched videos help in a copyright infringement case? Surely, YouTube's own internal logs would be sufficent along with the content of the publicly available files?

    Maybe, and this is reaching a hell of a lot, they could argue that they need logs to show who *uploaded* the videos and thus show that those persons were unauthorised to do so, but viewers? That makes no sense - even with P2P cases they've only been going after uploaders.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    eleete, 3 Jul 2008 @ 10:07am

    Next Headline

    What if the data is stolen or lost ? Probably no contempt charges for that i bet. Given the history of people who store and analyze that type of data, I bet the next headline in the case reads... Laptop with youtube user data stolen at airport. No encryption on YOUR private data.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. icon
    Crosbie Fitch (profile), 3 Jul 2008 @ 10:19am

    Google should publish

    If the data is necessary for justice to be seen to be done, then publish the data for all to see.

    When the law is perverted to violate privacy in the name of protecting publications from unauthorised redistribution to the public, such perverse measures are necessary.

    Viacom wants a competitive advantage from the parlous discovery process the US has adopted? That advantage can be removed by Google providing the requested information to the public, which includes Viacom's competitors.

    Better still, ditch copyright and restore the right to privacy.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Brandon, 3 Jul 2008 @ 10:33am


    From what I read, Viacom claims that knowing what videos were watched, they can prove that the public is more interested in their videos than user-created content. Why they need username and IP addresses, though, is still beyond me.

    Another thing I've read in this ruling is that Google also has to hand over all info on videos that have been removed from YouTube and the reason they were removed along with the username of the person who first uploaded them. That almost sounds to me like an underhanded way to find out who's been uploading Viacom content "illegally". This, they claim, will allow them to prove that YouTube has distributed Viacom content. Still seems like a major stretch to me!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Eric, 3 Jul 2008 @ 10:45am

    IP Addresses

    They probably want the IP addresses to filter out double hits to see how many individual people are hitting their videos. But to me, this could be accomplished with just IPs not username correlation. It's the only reason why I can see they would want this kind of information.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. icon
    Crosbie Fitch (profile), 3 Jul 2008 @ 10:55am

    Re: Why?

    Perhaps they are intending to argue that the viewer is the one who instigates the manufacturing of a copy - now that it has been established that hosting or making the video available is not a copyright infringement. They may argue that YouTube doesn't 'stream' video, but transmits files, though usually ephemeral.

    Unfortunately, I suspect Viacom realises copyright would be abolished faster than a snowflake in a sauna if they attempted to sue viewers of YouTube.

    Or are they going to sue Google for transmitting files to viewers?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    ted, 3 Jul 2008 @ 11:05am

    “could be doing —— but are not —— to control infringement”

    I was reading thru the legal document at wired's blog and found it very weak that most of what Viacom is looking for is proof that google “could be doing —— but are not —— to control infringement” They obviously have no real evidence. This is a fishing expedition and should be dismissed. If viacom wants to see what people have been watching they can go to youtube and check. if its been pulled down, have google tell you how many people watched it.

    Also Viacom also gets in the decision
    "copies of all videos that were once available for public viewing on but later removed for any reason, or such subsets as plaintiffs designate"
    I wonder if there is any kiddie pr0n in that list? If so, Viacom should be brought up on charges for possession. And I urge every other copyright holder to sue Viacom for illegal possession and duplication of your protected work.

    The motion to produce youtube's database was granted so User ID and IP address for each view will be given to Viacom. It's also important to know that

    Viacom was granted access to the Google Video search schema to see if google could have done a better job blocking infringement. Which leads me to ask. Why should they? They are only asked to remove infringing video. Not censor the terms users search for.

    Viacom also wanted access to all the videos marked Private. However the judge denied this since the videos were posted with expected privacy and the user agreement helps support Google's side. The judge did however allow "specified non content data" to be released to Viacom.

    Perhaps I read it over to fast, but i did not see anywhere about the use of the data that was being handed over. I hope I just missed it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Jul 2008 @ 11:26am

    Here's a thought

    Let's just say Google decides to play along with this little game. They should do a data-dump of their servers in no particular order. I think I read somewhere the ruleing was 4 Terabyte HDs. I say 50 or more :) Just hand over all the data, maybe in some format that would be hard to decode... 1337 maybe?... but then the judge would probably hold them in contempt for obstructing something or another. But it would still be funny to see Viacom sorting through all the garbage to get that one gem they are looking for.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Vincent Clement, 3 Jul 2008 @ 11:38am

    Re: Data

    If that is the case the solution is simple: assign a unique ID to each IP and user name. Instead of handing over IP and user name information, Google hands over a list of unique IDs and what videos each unique ID watched.

    No privacy breach and Viacom can "prove" more people watched their videos than user-created content.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    claire rand, 3 Jul 2008 @ 12:11pm

    data transfer

    ok mr google hand the data over.. just one word, and imagine the utter chaos it would cause..


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Bob, 3 Jul 2008 @ 12:22pm

    Re: Re: Data

    I hope they end up doing this method(UniqueID for IP swap) otherwise a very bad precedent.

    I also like the idea of faxing it to them at 25% to save paper.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Wyatt Ditzler, 3 Jul 2008 @ 12:36pm

    Health information

    So will Google hand over health information as easily? They are pushing, along with Microsoft, health information databases. Makes you wonder how hard they would fight to keep your health information private.

    Perhaps it is time for a privacy law that specifically gives rights for control of personal information. We could use EU and British laws as a jumping off point.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Jul 2008 @ 1:33pm

    Idiots!!! Next time you wanna allow a company to keep a log and track EVERYTHING ABOUT EVERYTHING you ever do (Google Desktop, anyone?) you have no room to complain. The disclaimers state clearly what information is retained. What is the need to retain this information? Google is not going to keep 12 Terabytes of 'worthless' information. Always be prepared. Viacom is trying to prepare for the future. Viacom wants a share of the massive amount of data Google has compiled. Why? For future actions. Google's actions are to control and feed and market to the masses through information, Viacom's actions are going to be through legal (or should I say illegal) actions. We never should have allowed Google to build an empire on acquiring/monitoring/studying people's private information. It's our fault. I'm sorry, Fore Fathers.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Don't Do Evil, 3 Jul 2008 @ 3:33pm


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    Don't Do Evil, 3 Jul 2008 @ 3:33pm


    Do you share information?
    An uncomfortable Eric Schmidt answers if he shares private information.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    Don't Do Evil, 3 Jul 2008 @ 3:34pm


    Do you share information?
    An uncomfortable Eric Schmidt answers if Google shares private information.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    Mike Allen, 3 Jul 2008 @ 4:18pm

    is it possible

    that the idiot lawyers or viacom have not realised that you cant download you tube videos merely watch. another point to hand over that information to viacom of people in th UK is against our data protection act and you tube can be taken to court by every UK member and the board (google) imprisoned for doing so.
    Hell i cant even comfirm that some works for me i cant give one employee another employees internal email it is against the act.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Jul 2008 @ 5:56pm

    Do not give them any info

    Another reason to not believe anything these bozos have to say.
    Privacy Statement = Hogwash
    I do not care what website it is, your info will be used for whatever they want.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. identicon
    econdude, 3 Jul 2008 @ 8:06pm

    That does it, I'm going to jail

    I watched a video on YouTube. I guess I'm going to jail. It's gonna be crowded with tens of millions of other YouTube viewers going too. What are they going to do with the people who posted videos, fry them in the electric chair?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. identicon
    Quantity Surveyor Man, 3 Jul 2008 @ 11:20pm

    Been there hated them.

    After YouFool took down a short clip of "Kids in The Hall" that I posted, for the usual Viacom crap, I copied my KITH DVD's and sold them on Ebay.

    Nothing Viacom makes will ever enter my home in a legal way anymore. Arrr matey..

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. icon
    PaulT (profile), 4 Jul 2008 @ 12:45am


    Ironically, Techdirt now has a record of your IP address and browser/OS identifiers for when you made that comment.

    The only way to avoid tracking online is not to go online.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. identicon
    Thomas, 4 Jul 2008 @ 7:58am

    Down With VIACOM.

    Its a classic example of someone who does not have a clue about the technical aspect of the internet, making a judgement that they have no clue of the magnitude of importance their actions created. By forcing them to release ALL information about the users, is Stupid and it violates everyone's privacy. It should have stated that they wanted the persons IP address who posted the copywrite video. Not the people who watched it. ViaCom is just trying to get a piece of the action. They dont have enough users and are not making enough money on their own so they have to trick some judge who does not have a clue, into forcing companies to give them more data. Its a fact, I have two YouTube accounts with email addressess that do NOT get spam, I bet after viacom gets a hold of the data I get spam. Whatever happened to the judge from the CraigsList case, who said that its not CraigsList that should be held liable, but the user who posted it! It dont matter what that law is at this time, what matters is that ViaCom got what they wanted; a long list of user names and IP addressess.. And its your personal information that the are going to have. Does anyone know how to get a hold of the judge, and tell him what he has done is way more of a violation of privacy/copywrite, then the original case in question?? I am sure we will have to call him by phone, as he obviously has no clue about how the internet works....

    We all need to complain about this or it will happen over and over and over, until one day you wake up and none of your online personal data is personal anymore..

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23. identicon
    Random Stranger, 4 Jul 2008 @ 11:32am

    The end of VIACOM.

    Down with ViaCom, Just because you watched videos on you tube, ViaCom will soon have your personal information including user name and Password, the videos you watched, (or may not have, as if you clicked a video but did not watch it, it will show that you watched it). ViaCom and the courts need to hear how peeved you are that they are taking your personal data, and useing it for personal gain. Its not YouTube that is in violation, nor is it Google that is in violation. It was a handfull of users that posted copywrite videos. And thats the only information they should need to complete their case. We gotta help Google and YouTube, Not because we like them, but because they are going to have to give ViaCom your personal data. Here is a link to the ViaCom contact us form, If you have used YouTube they this effects you, Please use it Please repost it on other websites.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24. identicon
    Anon, 5 Jul 2008 @ 5:56am

    Via...who? Viagra??

    Their logic is so off.
    People watch more illegal stuff for one reason. Simply because THERE IS MORE ILLEGAL STUFF posted!
    (If the legal stuff was there, it would get watched. The legal stuff is usually in higher quality etc.)

    Equally important is the fact that a regular joe can not tell what is legal and what is not. Yeah, it says OASIS' offical channel, or CBS, but anyone can make up a name and stay up long enough before they are suspended for pretending to be someone else.
    It's nothing to do with the watchers, it's the uploaders.

    What they're trying to do is scare people out of watching illegal content on Youtube.
    I would like to know why Youtube has this much information on it's users. It is certainly not helpful in any way, and was an accident (or lawsuit) waiting to happen.

    Lets face it- no one is going to boycott Viacom. Nobody even knows who Viacom are or what they own. If they want to f*** them up then every person with a youtube account should (instead of boycotting) find out what they own, and upload a shit load of it. There would be far too many people to prosecute, and if they have an unsecured wireless internet connection they can't even prove who did it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25. icon
    deadzone (profile), 7 Jul 2008 @ 9:33am

    Remind me to...

    Put some not so cute videos of my daughter for Viacom to enjoy. Poopy diaper changes and puke videos FTW!! :)

    I don't care particularly if they have my personal information from my YouTube account because it's just stupid, silly, stuff that only my family and I care about. I do care about the privacy implications of what this decision means and the overall impact it could have on our basic privacy rights that we should be entitled to on-line that seem to be continuously be eroded.

    Bad, bad, decision, with no thought of the ramifications to the YouTube users. All in the name of what? Small clips of material that Viacom produced? Stupid, unwarranted, over-reaction, IMHO. Just get over it Viacom and appreciate the free advertising!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26. identicon
    snowburn14, 7 Jul 2008 @ 10:35am

    Re: data transfer

    Ha! I love it. Especially if google efaxes it so they don't waste any of their own paper and ink, just Viacom's.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27. identicon
    steveking, 7 Jul 2008 @ 11:38pm today announces YouTube Robot 2.0, a tool that enables you to download video from onto your PC, convert it to various formats to watch it when you are on the road on mobile devices like mobile phone, iPod, iPhone, Pocket PC, PSP, or Zune.

    YouTube Robot allows you to search for videos using keywords or browse video by category, author, channel, language, tags, etc. When you find something noteworthy, you can preview the video right in YouTube Robot and then download it onto the hard disk drive. The speed, at which you will be downloading, is very high: up to 5 times faster than other software when you download a single file and up to 4 times faster when you download multiple files at a time.

    Manual download is not the only option with YouTube Robot. You may as well schedule the download and conversion tasks to be executed automatically, even when you are not around. Downloading is followed by conversion to the format of your choice and uploading videos to a mobile device (if needed). For example, you can plug in iPod, select the video, go to bed, and when you wake up next morning, your iPod will be ready to play new YouTube videos.

    Product page:
    Direct download link:

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28. identicon
    DB, 17 Jul 2008 @ 1:24pm

    Re: Re:

    I guess you have never heard of anonymous proxies : )

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29. identicon
    RoyMasters, 3 Nov 2008 @ 5:14pm

    Corporate Power

    You Tube broke all the laws. Dangerous. Common sense.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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