Sometimes I am left almost loss for words, and today is one of them. Judge Louis Stanton gave a ruling in the federal court for the Southern District of New York which has, quite frankly, dismissed the right to privacy of anyone who has ever watched a video clip on YouTube.
The man who obviously has his finger on the pulse of technological culture (spot the irony) has ordered that Google must pass over to Viacom, the broadcast media giant which owns MTV and DreamWorks amongst others, records regarding every single video clip ever published to its YouTube service. All of them.
What sort of records? Oh you know, the user name, address and IP address which detail every video clip you have ever watched on YouTube, or elsewhere for that matter as the ruling also includes videos that are embedded on other sites but played via the YouTube site.
Viacom quite obviously do not need this information to determine if there are copyright violating videos on YouTube, it has already said there are more than 100,000 of them and issued take down notices.
Viacom is either positioning itself to get better leverage with regard to the ongoing $1 billion lawsuit it has against Google and YouTube, and of which this decision was part. Or it is just making an old media grab for new media information, so it can tell who watches what and when.
Whatever the real reason, the fact remains: Viacom has no right to this data. No moral right, and I would argue no legal right either - no matter what Judge Out Of Touch With 21st Century Reality says. By the way, what he says is that suggesting handing over the data would invade user privacy was purely speculative. Yeah right, nice one Judge.
I say it is illegal because the Video Privacy Protection Act (VPPA) says that the nature of videos people choose to watch is nobodies concern but their own.
I say it is illegal because the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DCMA) has a safe harbor clause which says that providers like Google are protected against copyright infringement claims such as this as long as they respond to takedown notices. Which they have.
The way it works is that it is the responsibility of Viacom to spot a copyright violation, report it with a takedown notice and then YouTube remove it. Everyone should be happy. Unless, I guess, one party happens to be the new King of the online broadcasting world and the other a relic of times past which has failed to grasp times now.
I urge everyone to read what the EFF have to say on the matter, and then get busy writing letters and complaining as loud as you can to anyone who will listen. If, that is, you value your privacy for the future.