Though nothing will
Drive them away
We can beat them
Just for one day
~David Bowie, Heroes.

That collective sigh of relief you hear this morning is probably the millions of YouTube users who are relieved that Google and Viacom have reached an agreement to protect their privacy. All I can say is thank goodness that common sense prevailed for once.

I am sure I was not alone in my anger and outrage when word got out earlier this month that a federal judge had ruled in a copyright infringement case against Google involving its YouTube property, that the plaintiff Viacom had the right to see YouTube logs to see which copyrighted material was used, but also included a free pass to access user names and IP addresses. In my view, if Viacom wanted proof of the perceived misuse of its content, then a list of its copyrighted content itself should have sufficed without seeing the viewing habits of each and every YouTube user. The judge, by the way, did see fit to protect YouTube’s source code from Viacom’s prying eyes, but thought nothing of trashing user's privacy.

Interestingly enough, according to this article in PC Pro, the agreement does not cover Google employees. Seems Viacom wants proof that Google explicitly knew about the copyright violations because individual employees were among those watching. Leaving aside, how that proves corporate knowledge, I can’t help but thinking if Google is responsible for masking user identifying information, how is the employee information going to be kept separate? I guess that just more billable hours for the attorneys involved to hash this all out.

Another interesting aspect to this is that Google in protecting its users from this information grab comes out looking like the good guy in the eyes of millions of users. Google, like Apple (as I reported on Monday in Consumers Should be Mad as Hell Over iPhone 3G Phone Launch Debacle (But Aren’t)), is a Teflon company. Unlike Microsoft which forced to suffer all the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, Google comes out unscathed looking like the hero to us all.

I have to admit, I’m pleased that Google stood up for its users. The lawyers could have simply thrown up their hands and said that a judge’s order is a judge’s order and there is little they can do, but they didn’t. They sat down with Viacom’s legal team (stacked up a bushel of billable hours) and found a way to protect our privacy. For that, we really should be grateful, and truth be told I don’t recall Apple or Microsoft ever taking a similar step in the name of its users.

Whatever Google's motivation on this one, I’m just glad that common sense prevailed, and for that Google is a hero, at least for one day.