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7/8/2008
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Viacom Vows To Protect YouTube Users' Anonymity

Viacom is negotiating with Google to come up with a way to distinguish most users from each other without using IP addresses or usernames.

Viacom doesn't want the names and IP addresses of YouTube users, and the company is trying to find a way to differentiate users without identifying them.

Last week, a judge ruled that Google had to release information on YouTube users to help determine whether the video-sharing site infringed on Viacom's copyrights. Viacom has said that its lawyers and advisors will guard the information they receive and will use it only for the court case.

"The Court's recent decision has triggered concern about what information will be disclosed and how it will be used," the company explained in a statement." Viacom has not asked for and will not be obtaining any personally identifiable information of any user. Any information that we or our outside advisors obtain -- which will not include personally identifiable information -- will be used exclusively for the purpose of proving our case against You Tube and Google, will be handled subject to a court protective order and in a highly confidential manner."

Although blogs and media reports have warned that Viacom could embark on an RIAA-like campaign to sue individual users, Viacom's lawyers said the company has never sued a video-sharing site's users for uploading or downloading Viacom content. The court ruling has also upset privacy advocates who said it erodes protections that allow people to watch videos with confidence that their viewing habits will not be made public.

Viacom's representatives are currently negotiating with Google representatives to come up with a way to distinguish most users from each other -- without using IP addresses or usernames. For example, a numbering system would allow Viacom to identify users' patterns and help determine whether YouTube built its business on user-generated content or on copyrighted videos.

There is one likely exception when it comes to Viacom's willingness to protect YouTube users' anonymity. The company's lawyers will want to see whether Google or YouTube employees deliberately seeded the site with copyrighted content. To do that, they will need IP addresses allotted to Google and YouTube and usernames affiliated with the companies' own employees.

"It is unfortunate that we have been compelled to go to court to protect Viacom's rights and the rights of the artists who work with and depend on us," Viacom explained in a statement. "YouTube and Google have put us in this position by continuing to defend their illegal and irresponsible conduct and profiting from copyright infringement, when they could be implementing the safe and legal user generated content experience they promise."

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