Judge Stanton orders YouTube to reveal usernames, videos watched, + viewing history over YouTube’s privacy law objections

July 3, 2008

News: In the Viacom v. YouTube copyright lawsuit, Judge Stanton ordered YouTube to disclose “all data from the Logging database concerning each time a YouTube video has been viewed on the YouTube website or through embedding on a third-party website,” which includes “for each instance a video is watched, the unique “login ID” of the user who watched it, the time when the user started to watch the video, the internet protocol address other devices connected to the internet use to identify the user’s computer (“IP address”), and the identifier for the video.” You can read the opinion by clicking here.

EFF argues that the court order violates the Video Privacy Protection Act (VPPA). The Judge apparently didn’t think it applied (dismissing it in a footnote).

Michael Arrington of Tech Crunch agrees with EFF and lambastes Judge Stanton for the ruling, though with the “utmost respect.”

Mike Masnick of Tech Dirt agrees with EFF and thinks the disclosure of usernames and videos watched violates VPPA.

Analysis: In terms of the privacy law, the key question is whether online videos fall within “prerecorded video cassette tapes or similar audio visual materials” under the VPPA. I haven’t read the statute yet, but my initial “ordinary meaning” interpretation of those words would be that online videos clearly are “similar audio visual materials” to video tapes. There’s really not much difference between online video and a video tape.

Viacom said that it would handle the user data confidentially and just wants to prove its case (more). OK, even if YouTube users can trust Viacom, there are numerous other plaintiffs involved in the class action lawsuit against YouTube who will also receive the information.

Another thing wrong with Judge Stanton’s analysis is the notion that a YouTube “login ID is an anonymous pseudonym” (p. 13). There are plenty of YouTube usernames that are either actual birth names–Esmeedenters, Terranaomi, Judsonlaipply, TayZonday, etc–or usernames that are readily identifiable people in the YouTube community–Renetto, Smosh, Lisanova, Justine, Paperlillies, Hotforwords, Valsartdiary, etc. Sure, many YouTube usernames are not well known, but many others are.

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