Bite of the frozen mammoth: Viacom vetoes the future?

He’s still got lawyers on retainer…
Looking at this weekend’s FT I noticed the menacing headline: Blow to YouTube as Viacom demands removal of its clips.

Of course the story is now everywhere. It is not yet clear what is going on. Like some kind of popular bistro owner in a gangster movie Google has been deep in negotiations with the content crew for some time – at first just trying to reach temporary settlements based on almost some kind of protection money scenario (e.g. here’s cash don’t sue just yet we’ll talk etc…). Some short term deals have been signed. Viacom appears to have been unhappy both with Google’s revenue sharing and ad selling proposals so has gone nuclear about it.

It could well be a strongarm tactic – 100,000 very popular YouTube clips viewed more than 1.2bn times have some kind of copyrighted Viacom content. Viacom may want to set up its own online content communities and/or sell content and ads a la carte. This may be tougher than it thinks – YouTube towers above the online video world and has a massive, global ready made audience and ad sales model to exploit.

However, professionally produced content is what stops YouTube from being little more than a showcase for amateur Jackass/Dirty Sanchez type stunt vid idiocy so Viacom has some powerful cards to play. It is interesting that Google’s able legal team smells some grey areas and fair use possibilities which complicate demands to shut off content, though. As CEO Eric Schmidt said last August: “I’ve learned that the law as not as crisply defined in this area as you might want…We’ve analysed [fair use] pretty carefully…And I don’t think we are going to change our tune on that.” (code for “we have cash to spend in court if needs be”).

It is hard to disagree with Google’s PR people when they say: “It is 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.”

If I were Viacom I would come to a temporary one year agreement with Google and see what happens, not veto the future completely. In the end, they have the most to lose and Google is unlikely to prove as much of a legal pushover as individual users.

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