As the grubby details are uncovered in Viacom's lawsuit against Google's YouTube, public statements from YouTube's lawyer try to make the case sound more important for users than it actually is.
At the middle of this copyright case is, well, $1 billion in breaks for copyright infraction, and lately launched court documents make both sides look bad. Viacom points to inner YouTube e-mail messages that say the company required stolen content to drive traffic or in some cases uploaded the content itself. YouTube claims that Viacom purposely made its videos look like users uploaded them in some cases, and also routinely permitted user-uploaded Viacom videos to remain on the site, making it hard to know what was stolen and what was legitimate.
These details, comical as they are, do not mean anything for users. That is possibly why YouTube Chief Counsel Zahavah Levine tries to make this case into a Digital Millennium Copyright Act issue in a blog post on the matter. He writes that "YouTube and sites like it will stop to exist in their current form if Viacom and others have their way in their lawsuits against YouTube." That seems extreme.
Certainly, the DMCA plays a role in this case. The law says Web sites are not liable for the content its users upload as long as the sites record infringing content upon request. If that was not true, sites like YouTube would absolutely be in trouble.
But what's happen in court has very little to do with the YouTube of today. in spite of of whether YouTube was built on copyright contravention, as Viacom claims, the site no longer relies on stolen content and has a pretty good system for snuffing it out.