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YouTube can hide user details in massive Viacom data dump

The user IDs and internet protocol (IP) addresses of everyone who has ever watched a video on YouTube will not now be sent by its parent company Google to Viacom after a climb-down by the television company.16 Jul 2008

As part of its $1 billion law suit against Google and YouTube for mass copyright infringement, MTV and Comedy Central owner Viacom won the right to be sent a record of every video ever watched on YouTube.

Google opposed the move and there was an outcry about the implications for users' privacy of the release of the data. Now Viacom has agreed to let Google anonymise the data before it is sent to it.

"When producing data from the Logging Database pursuant to the Order, Defendants shall substitute values while preserving uniqueness for entries in the following fields: User ID, IP Address and Visitor ID," said an agreement between the two companies lodged with the US District Court for the Southern District of New York.

The case centres on whether or not YouTube should be responsible for the fact that it hosts and delivers millions of videos that infringe other people's copyright.

YouTube says that it is only a service provider and cannot screen all material, but that it takes down infringing material when informed of its existence. Viacom says that the company profits from infringement and does not do enough to ensure users have the rights to material they upload.

Viacom had said that it wanted the data to assist it in finding out whether or not copyright infringing material is watched more than non-infringing material.

Viacom's suit has been rolled together with another suit by the Football Association Premier League.

"We are pleased to report that Viacom, MTV and other litigants have backed off their original demand for all users' viewing histories and we will not be providing that information," said a YouTube statement on the company's blog.

"In addition, Viacom and the plaintiffs had originally demanded access to users' private videos, our search technology, and our video identification technology. Our lawyers strongly opposed each of those demands and the court sided with us," it said.

Struan Robertson, a technology lawyer with Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind OUT-LAW, said last week that the scale of Viacom's data request was excessive.

"The volume of data to be disclosed seems entirely disproportionate to Viacom's purpose. If they only need to gauge the popularity of the content, statistical data should suffice. There should be no need for IP addresses or login names," he said.