Viacom Versus Google - The Tipping Point for Internet Search?

15 March 2007

NEW YORK: What happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object? The US District Court in New York will be charged with answering that perennial paradox when media titan Viacom meets with Google to settle their of breach of copyright dispute.

In a court filing, Viacom seeks damages plus an injunction against Google - and specifically its YouTube offshoot - for using technology to "willfully infringe copyrights on a huge scale ... and profiting from the illegal conduct of others as well".

The case will likely pivot on the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998, intended to retrofit copyright protection for a [then] near unimaginable digital future. Lawyers on both sides will grow richer by the second as they debate whether or not a nine-year-old law is legally binding in the YouTube era.

The 1998 Act updated intellectual-property rights for the internet and laid the foundations for extensive online hosting and searching of content originating from third parties.

It also includes important so-called 'safe-harbor' clauses: provisions designed to protect access providers, search engines, web-hosting services and others from liability for copyright claims if they met certain conditions.

The outcome of the case could well prove to be a tipping point for the future of both companies.

  • Meantime in the velvet bunker of Viacom's broadcast sibling CBS, octogenarian patriarch Sumner M Redstone has caved-in to investor pressure by linking his remuneration to shareholder returns and the performance of CBS stock.

    Redstone, executive chairman both of CBS and Viacom, formerly remunerated himself via a salary and performance-related bonus.

    His change of heart is neither voluntary nor selfless, and results from a shareholder lawsuit challenging the way in which he paid himself.

    Keeping an admirably straight face, Redstone proclaimed: "The pay-for-performance model is one I have long championed."

    Data sourced from Wall Street Journal Online. additional content by WARC staff