Judge to YouTube: Cough up those IPs

In the long-running Viacom vs. YouTube case — one that falls into the “desperately trying not to adapt” category — a judge has ruled that the Google-owned video site has to turn over a record of every user who has ever watched a YouTube video, either on the site or embedded in another site (a database that the judge’s ruling estimates would amount to 12 terabytes). Viacom is apparently trying to prove that copyright-infringing video clips from its shows are among the most popular content in the YouTube universe, and therefore YouTube should have to pay more in damages as a result of the infringement.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation makes a fairly persuasive argument that the judge’s order is a legal error, based on a U.S. law (the Videotape Privacy Protection Act, believe it or not) that prevents the publication of information about which videotapes a customer has rented. Unfortunately, Google’s own legal arguments appear to have worked against the company this time: its data-retention policies are based on the idea that IP addresses aren’t really personal data because they aren’t attached specifically to a single person, and in his decision the judge specifically quotes Google’s view that “in most cases, an IP address without additional information cannot [identify a user].”

As the EFF notes in its discussion of the issue, the AOL privacy breach of a couple of years ago is ample evidence that an IP address and some other user information can be used to quite easily track down individual users. Is that what Viacom has in mind — and if so, are individual lawsuits a la the RIAA the next thing on the agenda? If so, then the judge’s decision effectively emasculates the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which is supposed to protect hosting companies if they abide by takedown requests. Mike Arrington says the judge is “a moron.”

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