Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Report: Leaked Emails Zing YouTube in Viacom Copyright Suit

skateboarding-dogViacom has been rummaging through Google and YouTube records for more than a year as part of its $1 billion copyright lawsuit. Did it get what it was looking for?

Maybe, says CNET’s Greg Sandoval. He reports that Viacom’s attorneys have unearthed emails that indicate that YouTube employees uploaded copyrighted material to the site and that “managers” knew there was copyrighted stuff on the site but didn’t do anything about it.

Those allegations happen to be key parts of Viacom’s (VIA) suit against Google (GOOG) and YouTube, and a good part of what the company has been looking for in the discovery/deposition process that has stretched on for more than a year and is slated to extend through the end of 2009.

Viacom has argued that senior YouTube employees, including cofounders Chad Hurley and Steve Chen, knew full well that their site was full of copyrighted material and not only didn’t try to prevent it, but at some point even encouraged it.

So what exactly do the emails say? I don’t know. Sandoval is summarizing the documents, not reproducing them. And if I’m reading his story correctly, he may not have seen them either, but may be relying on someone else’s description of them. (That said, in a separate story, Sandoval does reproduce parts of Google CEO Eric Schmidt’s deposition from the same case.)

Here’s his description:

Lawyers working on a $1 billion copyright lawsuit filed by Viacom against Google’s YouTube may have uncovered evidence that employees of the video site were among those who uploaded unauthorized content to YouTube.

In addition, internal YouTube e-mails indicate that YouTube managers knew and discussed the existence of unauthorized content on the site with employees but chose not to remove the material, three sources with knowledge of the case told CNET.

The e-mails, according to the sources who asked for anonymity because of the ongoing litigation, surfaced during an exchange of information between the two sides of the legal dispute.

I’ve asked Sandoval for more information about the emails he’s referring to, but I don’t expect him to say much; anyone who released documents from discovery would be violating a court order. Viacom had no comment. Here’s YouTube’s comment, via CNET: “The characterizations of the supposed evidence, made in violation of a court order, are wrong, misleading, or lack important context and notably come on the heels of a series of significant setbacks for the plaintiffs. The evidence will show that we go above and beyond our legal obligations to protect the rights of content owners.”

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