Viacom tells YouTube to remove content

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Google’s strategy for its newly acquired YouTube site was dealt a serious blow on Friday when Viacom, the owner of MTV, demanded that all its clips be removed from the user-generated internet company’s site.

Viacom, which owns youth brands such as Nickelodeon and Comedy Central, made the demand after months of negotiations with YouTube and Google. It said more than 100,000 affected video clips on the YouTube site had generated more than 1.2bn video streams.

The move threatens to wreck Google’s attempts to cement commercial relationships with traditional media groups, which supply most material.

Since acquiring YouTube for $1.65bn in October, Google and Eric Schmidt, its chief executive, have made a frantic effort to forge relationships with traditional media companies. They have managed to sign short-term deals with CBS, Warner Music, Sony-BMG and Universal Music.

Discussions with Viacom appeared to break down over the splitting of advertising revenues from Viacom content. There was also a fight over which company would make those sales.

Viacom executives were frustrated that YouTube had failed to implement a content-monitoring system by the beginning of the year, as it had promised, so companies could easily tell when their material was being posted.

It accused Google and YouTube of reaping all the revenue from their material “without extending fair compensation to the people who have expended all of the effort and cost to create it”.

YouTube said it would comply with the request.

“It’s unfortunate that Viacom will no longer be able to benefit from YouTube’s passionate audience which has helped to promote many of Viacom’s shows,” YouTube said in a statement. “We take copyright issues very seriously. We prohibit users from uploading infringing material, and we cooperate with all copyright holders to identify and promptly remove infringing content as soon as we are officially notified.”

Viacom and other traditional media groups are eager to distribute their content to audiences of social networking and user-generated websites, which are wildly popular with young consumers. But they are wary of losing commercial and editorial control.

They complain that most clips posted on the sites are derived from their copyrighted work and have been appropriated without permission.

Viacom believes it has particular leverage because it specialise in youth-oriented and short-form video clips. It has previously demanded that clips from programmes such as Comedy Central’s Daily Show be removed.

Under US copyright laws, sites are protected from legal action as long as they respond in a timely manner to requests to remove unauthorised material. NBC Universal, Disney and Viacom complain that they have to monitor hundreds of thousands of clips.

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