The Work

July 16, 2008 12:27 PM

Legal Heavies Hammer Out YouTube Privacy Agreement

Posted by Zach Lowe

Viacom and Google, embroiled in a $1 billion copyright lawsuit involving unauthorized movie and TV clips shown on Google subsidiary YouTube, reached an agreement late Monday that will allow Google to turn over YouTube viewing records without revealing the identities of individual users--a move privacy advocates had feared.

Jenner & Block and Shearman, which represent Viacom, Country Music Television, Paramount Pictures, and several other plaintiffs alleging that YouTube violates copyrights by posting unauthorized clips of their productions, requested that YouTube and its parent, Google, turn over YouTube user data. The companies are hoping the data will prove YouTube viewers watch copyrighted material more often than user-created videos.

Google, who tapped Mayer Brown and Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, its longtime counsel, balked at the request but lost the battle when Judge Louis Stanton of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York ordered the records turned over.

Privacy advocates were aghast, fearing that YouTube users' viewing habits would be open to the world. But the lawyers agreed Google can turn over the data without specific names and IP addresses.

Viacom has fought with Google over the copyright issue since Google bought YouTube for $1.65 billion in late 2006; before Viacom filed suit last year, the company sent YouTube officials a letter demanding they take down more than 100,000 clips.

Lawyers on both sides declined comment, saying Google and Viacom have instructed them to keep quiet and let company spokespeople handle press calls.

It's a heady group. Jenner's team is led by Donald Verrilli, Jr., who successfully represented MGM in the Supreme Court in a copyright case against the file-sharing company Grokster in 2005.

David Kramer of Wilson Sonsini is leading Google's defense alongside Mayer Brown's Richard Ben-Veniste.

Kramer has repped Google on a slew of major lawsuits; Ben-Veniste, a former Watergate prosecutor and member of the 9/11 Commission, came to the case in January, when Google removed Barlit Beck Herman Palenchar & Scott as cocounsel at the firm's request. That team was headed by Philip Beck, who led George W. Bush's team in the early stages of the Bush v. Gore litigation.

The firm and Google cited scheduling conflicts as the reason in a January statement; Wilson Sonsini declined to elaborate on the matter today.

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