As a result of YouTube user privacy complaints, Viacom, Inc., will not be told the identities of individuals who viewed video clips on the popular video-sharing Web site.

Viacom and other copyright holders have agreed to let YouTube mask user IDs, IP addresses, and visitor IDs when it hands over viewership records in the discovery stage of a $1 billion lawsuit accusing YouTube of enabling copyright infringement. The parties came to this agreement on July 14, 2008, in a stipulation approved by Judge Louis L. Stanton of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York (Viacom International Inc. v. YouTube Inc., S.D.N.Y., No. 07-cv- 2103).

The stipulation amends a July 1 discovery order requiring YouTube to provide all data from its logging database concerning each time an online video has been viewed on the YouTube Web site or through embedding on a third-party Web site. The logging database contains, for each video watched, the unique “login ID” of the user who watched it, the time the user started to watch, the IP address of the user, and the identifier for the video.

If the logging database was produced with full identifying information, that information may have been able to be used by Viacom for future enforcement actions against individual YouTube viewers or third-party Web sites embedding YouTube content.

While Viacom and the other plaintiffs in the lawsuit will not receive the identities of those in YouTube’s logging database, YouTube has agreed to preserve the uniqueness of the database. This will enable the copyright holders to determine (1) how many times has an illegal download occurred for a particular work, (2) how many individuals or Web sites have viewed the material at issue, and (3) the duration for each viewing. This information will be helpful to Viacom in assessing the validity of the underlying copyright infringement lawsuit and determining damages.

Discovery Stipulation Is But One Small Piece of a Massive Copyright Suit This discovery stipulation is the most recent activity in the copyright infringement action brought last year by Viacom, owner of networks such as MTV, Comedy Central, and Country Music Television, and Paramount Pictures Corp.

Viacom claims that YouTube’s video sharing Web site has led to “an explosion” of copyright infringement, evidenced by YouTube’s video library that includes entire episodes of copyrighted programming, such as the popular “Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” and significant portions of full-length movies. Viacom’s brief identifies more than 150,000 allegedly unauthorized clips of copyrighted programming that had been viewed “an astounding 1.5 billion times.”

Despite the copyright owners allegations, YouTube’s attorneys have argued that the video sharing Web site is compliant with the “notice and takedown” requirements of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DCMA). For copyright infringement claims based on user-generated content, the DCMA protects third-party Web site operators if they respond to content owners’ claims of copyright infringement and take down the offending material. In addition to the logging information subject to the order, the parties will be examining YouTube’s DMCA compliance.

In the same discovery order, YouTube was ordered to produce records regarding all video clips removed from its Web site, but was not required to produce its source code for search code data, due to its proprietary nature and value to the company.