YouTube was the top web-property for activity within the United State in April 2008*.  Over 4 billion videos were viewed and an untold amount of money was generated through its ad network.

YouTube and its parent company, Google, have been the defendant’s in a lawsuit from Viacom, who claims that Google may be financially benefiting from Viacom’s protected content. The lawsuit cites the plaintiff seeking $1 billion.

To visualize the issue, we search in YouTube for a clip of the movie Top Gun, which is owned by Viacom.  The search “Top Gun movie” returns the results you see below:

As we can see, Kaplan University, an advertiser in Google’s network, has a purple banner appearing next to the search results.  Google will make money each time a viewer “clicks” an advertisment. As most banners rotate and share impressions with other advertisers, we also saw advertisements from Verizon and Dell for the same search, “Top Gun movie.”

The privacy issue: How to accurately measure the number of users who are looking at the copyrighted material, versus the non-copyrighted material (amateur content) and clicking on advertisements.  And, will the log of IP addresses (and possibly login names) actually be effective in quantification.

Internet protocol addresses, referred to as IP addresses are like telephone numbers to a computer.  Here is an example of what one may look like 321.654.1.321.  IP addresses can change under circumstances like at a coffee shop or in an airport terminal.  A company’s network of computers may all register as coming from the same IP address, even if there are 100 computers in the system. IP addresses have been effective in linking small groups, a case in point was where congressional staff memebers were found to be anonymously editing Wikipedia articles.  However, the scope of YouTube’s matter is far greater, we’re talking billions of views.

The concern: U.S. District Judge Louis Stanton wrote that the privacy concerns over IP addresses were speculative and argued that Google/YouTube’s database would be needed for Viacom’s case as it was the only existing record of how often videos were viewed.

Many critics fear that all it will take to retrieve “sensitive” information in the future is a court order. The next concern are the login names.  If the IP addresses don’t deliver the proper data, then will the login names be next?  According to the Wall Street Journal, Judge Stantonrejected the idea that sharing the login names of users with YouTube accounts would pose a privacy concern, since they are generally pseudonyms that users make up.

OK, everyone who uses their real name or part of it as a log-in name whether on YouTube, or otherwise, raise your hands…

Yes, quite a few of us do.

Future concerns: Many, including Wendy Seltzer, a law professor at Harverd’s Center for Internet & Society says that this should make the public think twice about if we need new and better privacy laws.  Others are critical about the Judge’s interpretation of the Video Privacy Protection Act.

For additional information, the following is a link to a recent article on CNN.  CNN is owned by neither Google or Viacom.

* According to comScore

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