Viacom Decides YouTube Is a Foe
Videos Reclaimed After Talks Fail

By Mike Musgrove
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 3, 2007; D01

Viacom Inc. demanded that online-video-sharing site YouTube remove all video clips of its content yesterday and accused the site of profiteering.

The media company, which owns the Comedy Central, Nickelodeon and MTV cable networks, said there were some 100,000 clips of its shows on the site that have been viewed 1.2 billion times. The request, which YouTube said it would honor, came after months of profit-sharing negotiations between the two companies failed.

The dilemma for Viacom, as it yanks back control over clips from its popular networks, is whether YouTube is more of a marketing tool that helps it win new viewers, or a business threat.

"We have been very indulgent for a period of time, but we've come to the point where we can't let YouTube and Google continue to profit at our expense without an agreement in place," Viacom chief executive Philippe P. Dauman said in an interview yesterday.

Though YouTube, which was purchased by Google last year, said it would take down the clips, as of yesterday afternoon there were still thousands for shows like Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report" on its site.

The tussle between the companies is indicative of a rocky transition for traditional broadcast interests, which must try to make business sense out of the online entertainment age, in which content is easy to produce, copy and distribute. Many networks are putting shows on their own Web sites, but YouTube, which is just a year old, has become the online nexus for trading both homemade and cribbed video. It serves up 100 million videos and its users upload 65,000 videos a day, and now that it's backed by Google's massive advertising machine, YouTube stands to become its own advertising behemoth.

With valuable ad revenue at stake, Viacom is not the first company to publicly take YouTube to task over copyright issues. Last month, Twentieth Century Fox subpoenaed YouTube to learn who uploaded pirated copies of episodes of television shows "24" and "The Simpsons." Last year, a group representing Japanese authors and copyright holders asked the site to take down 30,000 videos.

Such copyrighted content often makes its way to YouTube's most-watched lists. Yesterday, an interview with Bill Gates that had aired Monday night on Comedy Central's "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart" ranked No. 6 on YouTube. The clip remained online early yesterday evening.

YouTube, in its own defense, has argued that the popularity of such clips helps promote programs.

"It's unfortunate that Viacom will no longer be able to benefit from YouTube's passionate audience which has helped to promote many of Viacom's shows," the company's statement said. Some networks, like NBC, have selectively allowed clips of such shows as "Saturday Night Live" and "The Office" to remain on the site for promotional reasons.

Even when people violate YouTube's user agreement and post copyrighted material, the site is not in violation of the law so long as it removes the infringing videos at the copyright holders' request, said Tim Wu, a law professor at Columbia University.

"It's a common misconception that YouTube is a big land mine of liability," he said, "but the law in this area favors YouTube much more than people realize."

Because both sides have an interest in keeping content available, most of YouTube's copyright disputes with the television networks have been resolved through profitable arrangements, said Forrester Research media analyst James L. McQuivey.

CBS, for example, started a channel on YouTube's site last year, with clips from such programs as "The Late Show with David Letterman," and has even credited YouTube with boosting its ratings. In three months, the new channel has been viewed 90 million times.

McQuivey said he would expect Viacom and YouTube to eventually strike a similar deal. "It's a great way to drive eyeballs," he said.

YouTube, meanwhile, is not the only one defending itself against claims that it's making money piggybacking on others' content.

This week, Amanda Congdon, former host of the popular online show "Rocketboom," found that ablog, Valleywag, took one of her videos and added its logo. Though she doesn't mind when fans post videos of her content, Valleywag crossed the line, she said.

"They basically harvested a video from my site and plopped their logo on it. They made it seem like there was some sort of affiliation, which there isn't," she said. "I just think it's kind of underhanded to advertise on someone else's content."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company