Is Perez Hilton a pawn in Google’s war?

After having his account suspended for what YouTube said was a history of repeated copyright violations, uber celebrity-blogger Perez Hilton has announced that he is pulling all of his videos from the site and will henceforth only be posting them to perezhilton.com. YouTube says that it is merely complying with the rules under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act by blocking a known copyright infringer — but is its behaviour towards Perez part of its ongoing war with Viacom?

As CNET points out, many of the copyright complaints about Hilton have come from entertainment giant Viacom, and part of why the Google-owned site might be a little hyper-sensitive about copyright infringement is the ongoing $1-billion lawsuit launched by Viacom against YouTube for just that kind of thing. It’s more than a little ironic, then, that Viacom is also the parent company of VH1, the entertainment channel that owns the rights to Perez Hilton’s TV show, and would presumably be interested in the publicity that his videos might draw on YouTube.

After phone calls back and forth from lawyers, YouTube reinstated Hilton’s account, but by then he had already decided to pull his videos and stick to his own site from now on. But the big question is this: was Google beating up on Perez as a way of sending a message to Viacom about the cost of winning its war? Or maybe it was just trying to do the right thing 🙂

Hey Canadians: No Daily Show for you

If you like satire and you don’t mind staying up late, you’re probably a fan of The Daily Show, that great showcase for the satirical jabs of Jon Stewart. If that’s the case, you might have been overjoyed to hear that Comedy Central (which is part of MTV, which in turn is part of Viacom) recently launched a website with 13,000 or so clips from the show, including some of the most-loved episodes.

Finally, you may have thought to yourself — after months of fighting with YouTube over clips from the show (which routinely appear and then are quickly removed), Viacom has decided that giving viewers what they want over the Internet is the right way to go. Bravo.

The only problem with that rosy little scenario is that Viacom’s largesse — like every other U.S. TV network that has decided to stream popular shows from their website — is completely unavailable to Canadian viewers (and to viewers in other countries as well). You can go to the website and click on a video, but you don’t get anything. To add insult to injury, the pre-roll advertising spot that Viacom has sold for the clip plays just fine, but is followed by a black screen — a screen that might as well say “Hey non-U.S. viewers — look at all the stuff you can’t watch.”

Why can’t you watch The Daily Show clips? The same reason you can’t watch an episode of Heroes on the website the day after it plays on TV, and the same reason you can’t download TV episodes from iTunes: Canadian networks like Global and CTV have paid for the right to broadcast those shows, and would no doubt raise a hue and cry if they were suddenly available for free on the Internet. That might destabilize the entire Canadian broadcasting business model, which relies on access to U.S. hits.

Update: On a more recent visit to The Daily Show website, I was automatically redirected to thecomedynetwork.ca, which carries episodes of the Comedy Central show in Canada (after a pseudo-friendly message popped up saying how “some jerk blocked ComedyCentral.com” and that this was a “load of crap,” but that clicking on the link would take you to The Comedy Network for all your favourites “and a whole whack of homegrown hilarity”).

You can watch some recent episodes of The Daily Show at the Canadian site, but there is only a small selection, in contrast to the complete show archive that is available at the U.S. site. I guess it’s better than a blank screen, but not by much.

Viacom tries for a network of networks

I had almost forgotten about the rumours from six months or so ago that media and entertainment giant Viacom had bought a stake in Tagworld, a MySpace-style social network that I tried a few times and quite liked, but which never really seemed to get much traction, despite being well-desgined. Now it appears the rumours were true: Viacom has used the company’s technology to build micro-networks for its various brands.

According to the description on TechCrunch and in a Fortune magazine piece written by my old pal Richard Siklos, Viacom is not trying to create a simple MySpace knockoff — which I give them credit for. What they are trying to do, however, sounds much more difficult in a way: they are creating micro-hubs for artists, shows and channels (such as MTV and The Comedy Channel), and then allowing users of one network to move content and profiles and other data in between the different sub-networks.

The project is called Flux, and it apparently includes not just Viacom properties and portals but also other non-Viacom sites such as the website for the band The Pussycat Dolls and a skateboarding site called Sk8site.com. As Richard notes, users of an MTV site can even copy and paste videos or other content from their MTV pages to a MySpace page.

In effect, Viacom is doing the opposite of what MySpace has done, and is trying to tie together existing networks rather than creating its own. “We’re not trying to own a social network, build one, or compete with one,” says MTV Networks CEO Judy McGrath. “We’re embracing them all.” PaidContent, meanwhile, says the Flux project is old news, and that Viacom is just cobbling together old projects and trying to make them seem like a coherent strategy.

Thanks for nothing, Viacom

gootube1.jpgHave to give some props to Henry “I used to be a famous Wall Street analyst” Blodget over at Internet Outsider for his post about YouTube and the recent stats from Vidmeter (PDF link here). Seems content from the almighty Viacom only accounted for about two per cent of YouTube’s traffic — and all of the removed content from Big Media accounted for a measly six per cent of the total. So much for the argument about “NewTube” — the joint venture between News Corp. and Viacom — eviscerating YouTube by taking all the valuable content away. As Valleywag says, it’s the kittens who should be suing.

Update: Pete Cashmore at Mashable has a fair point when he notes that the Vidmeter report looked only at the videos that had been removed from the site, so it might not be a statistically accurate portrayal of what is on YouTube — since not everyone has been as aggressive as Viacom about sending takedown notices (to be fair to Vidmeter, they note that in their report).

Still, food for thought. Liz Gannes has some thoughts on the subject over at NewTeeVee. And here’s more food for thought: the 6,700 or so videos that Vidmeter included in their sample — the most-viewed — generated more than 1.58 billion views in a little over three months.

Update:

Kyle Redinger, among others (including a commenter here) takes issue with the Vidmeter survey. And Henry Blodget has a response to some of those criticisms — which Viacom also made in a recent Reuters story — in an update on his blog.

No this doesn’t mean Mark Cuban is right

So Viacom has slapped Google (or YouTube) with a $1-billion lawsuit for blatant copyright infringement on a massive scale, according to the entertainment conglomerate’s claim. On a side note, have you ever noticed how people invariably get slapped with lawsuits? Not just hit — slapped. And a big thick lawsuit would hurt, I bet. Especially legal paper.

But seriously, is anyone surprised by this? I’m willing to admit that Viacom might have a point about a few things, such as the copies of copyrighted material that pop up right after a clip is taken down, or the inability to search for more than 1,000 clips, etc. But those are really technicalities and Viacom knows it. It doesn’t even seem to be trying to make a real case under the DMCA.

I still think that the lawsuit — which Cynthia Brumfield at IPDemocracy correctly describes as “puffy and fluffy” — is really just another case of negotiation by other means, just like the notice and takedown letter about the 100,000 clips. I would also agree with Henry “I used to be a famous Wall Street analyst” Blodget that it is unlikely to be successful.

I also think that, regardless of the merits of the case (which are not nearly as strong as Viacom’s blustering press release implies) my friend Paul Kedrosky is right, and this lawsuit is fundamentally just dumb. Not necessarily wrong in a legal sense — but still dumb.