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American Airlines subpoenas Google, YouTube

Airline draws on digital copyright law to force companies to identify person who posted training video on their Web sites.

American Airlines is demanding that Google and video-sharing site YouTube reveal the name of the person who posted a portion of one of the airline's training videos on their Web sites.

Someone uploaded part of a video used to train flight attendants on YouTube and Google Video. The airline subpoenaed those companies on Feb. 21 under the controversial Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), according to airline spokesman Tim Wagner. Under the provisions of the DMCA, companies have the right to request information in the event that their copyright materials are infringed upon.

The video in question, titled "Flight Attendant, Upside Down," is under copyright, Wagner said.

Fatter bandwidth and the popularity of Apple Computer's video-playing iPods are driving a video-sharing craze on the Net. The trend has also rung alarms in the halls of movie and television studios. Entertainment companies have begun to aggressively use copyright law to protect their property. Stuck in the middle are Internet service providers and hosting sites that must walk the line between protecting their users' privacy and adhering to copyright law.

Responding to questions about the subpoena, Google said in an e-mail that the company "complies with valid and appropriate legal process, including subpoenas."

But the search engine giant informed American Airlines that it needs time to investigate the matter before giving up the name. Both Google and YouTube have asked American Airlines to file its request in court. Despite the requests, legal experts expect both companies to eventually comply with the subpoenas.

Cindy Cohn, legal director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an Internet privacy advocate, supported the decision by the companies to look into the matter before handing over the information.

"Whoever put the video up should be allowed the right to give his or her side of the story," Cohn said.

Julie Supan, a YouTube spokeswoman, declined to comment directly on the American Airlines subpoena. She noted that YouTube's user agreement specifically prohibits posting copyrighted materials by anyone else other than the owner.

"In our privacy agreement, we say that we'll cooperate with U.S. state and federal law," Supan said.