Lawsuit threatens artistic expression, says YouTube

A $1bn (£506m) copyright lawsuit against YouTube by one of the world's biggest media companies threatens online artistic and political expression, the website has claimed.

YouTube's owner, Google, issued the warning as part of its defence against Viacom, which owns MTV, Comedy Central and other channels. Viacom says it has identified 150,000 unauthorised clips on YouTube that have been watched more than 1.5 billion times. Google says the legal action "threatens the way hundreds of millions of people legitimately exchange information" over the web.

It claims that YouTube is going "far beyond its legal obligations in assisting content owners to protect their work". As well as removing copyrighted material as soon as it is reported, YouTube offers media companies software to identify such material, and actively pursues users who routinely breach its terms of use.

While many media groups have agreements with Google to share revenue from advertising that appears beside copyrighted material on YouTube, Viacom was enraged that clips from some of its shows, such as South Park, SpongeBob SquarePants and MTV Unplugged, have become YouTube favourites.

The lawsuit was filed in Manhattan last year, barely six months after the search engine bought YouTube for $1.65bn.

In Google's latest submission, it said: "By seeking to make carriers and hosting providers liable for internet communications, Viacom's complaint threatens the way hundreds of millions of people legitimately exchange information."

Viacom is trying to rip up the legislative compromise that enabled the explosion of user-generated content and gave rise to what tech- industry pundits call Web 2.0. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (1998) protects internet companies from copyright infringements by their users, provided they respond sufficiently to the complaints of the copyright holders. Without such protections, YouTube could not exist, Google argues.

Viacom says Google has done "little or nothing" to stop infringement, instead claiming YouTube's "vast library" of copyrighted works was "the cornerstone of its business plan".

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