A Comic Twist in YouTube Lawsuit

Jon Stewart, above, and Stephen Colbert, whose shows air on Viacom's Comedy Central, are potential witnesses in a copyright suit against YouTube.
Jon Stewart, above, and Stephen Colbert, whose shows air on Viacom's Comedy Central, are potential witnesses in a copyright suit against YouTube. (By Kevin Fitzsimons -- Associated Press)
By Susan Decker
Bloomberg News
Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Comedians Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart owe much of their popularity to the YouTube video-sharing site. YouTube is hoping they'll pay their debt.

Colbert, host of "The Colbert Report," and Stewart, satiric anchor of the fake news show "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart," will be questioned by YouTube attorneys as part of a Viacom copyright lawsuit against the site.

Colbert and Stewart, whose shows air on Viacom's Comedy Central channel, are among 32 potential witnesses listed by YouTube, a unit of Google, in federal court in New York.

"YouTube is perhaps one of the best marketing conduits for folks like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert," said Mitch Weinstein, an intellectual-property lawyer at Levenfeld Pearlstein in Chicago. "These guys are going to stand up there and say YouTube is great. And they're going to say it while they're on the Viacom payroll, and that's what YouTube wants."

If the men become witnesses at a trial, YouTube may try to use them to deflect claims of copyright-infringement or limit potential damages, Weinstein said.

Carrie Byalick, a spokeswoman for Colbert, did not reply to a message seeking a comment. Matt Labov, a spokesman for Stewart, declined to comment.

Viacom of New York is seeking more than $1 billion for what it contends is rampant posting of unauthorized videos on the site.

"Google and YouTube have knowingly and intentionally created and operated their YouTube Web site to promote and profit from massive copyright infringement of television programs and feature films on an unprecedented scale," Viacom said in court papers.

YouTube, which was bought last year by Google of Mountain View, Calif., for $1.65 billion, says its actions are protected under federal copyright law because, when notified, it takes steps to remove illegal postings.

Lawsuits against the Google unit "threaten to silence communications by hundreds of millions of people across the globe who exchange information, news and entertainment through YouTube's video hosting service," Google's document said.

Other people YouTube plans to question include Viacom Chairman Sumner M. Redstone; President Philippe Dauman; and Bob Bakish, president of Viacom's MTV Networks International. Most of Viacom's witness list consists of Google and YouTube officials, including Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page and its chief executive, Eric Schmidt.

YouTube was also sued by Britain's Football Association Premier League, which made similar allegations. YouTube plans to question the soccer league's chief executive, Richard Scudamore, and Chairman Dave Richards, according to a court document filed in that case.

The Belgian Professional Football League, which has also threatened to sue YouTube, said yesterday that it would defer any decision until September after Google offered a technology that will allow the group to monitor where its matches are broadcast.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company