Could YouTube drag Apple into copyright fight?

Chopper pilot suing YouTube is angered that pirated clips appear on the iPhone.

Here's something that shouldn't surprise many people: The video journalist who has been in a closely watched legal tussle with YouTube is also peeved at Apple.

Bob Tur is famous in Los Angeles for buzzing around the city in his helicopter and filming historical (and often bizarre) moments, such as O.J. Simpson's slow-speed Bronco chase, oodles of high-speed police pursuits and the beating of a trucker at the beginning of the Los Angeles riots. A year ago this month, he filed a suit against YouTube, claiming the company encouraged copyright violations on its site.

He's irked at Apple now because the new iPhone has a feature that allows users to view YouTube videos.

"Apple created a device that now traffics in bootlegged content," Tur told CNET "Steve Jobs is a brilliant man and I'm Apple's biggest fan. It sickens me to think that he can turn a blind eye to (copyright infringement)."

Tur said he may sue Apple for secondary copyright infringement, but legal experts are highly skeptical that Apple would ever be found liable.

"I would absolutely bet there is an indemnity provision in the contract with YouTube that protects Apple," said Chris Castle, an attorney who has represented both technology and entertainment companies in copyright cases. Castle also points out that YouTube is providing the videos, not Apple, which would make suing the latter company for copyright infringement even harder. Both Apple and YouTube declined to comment.

In the iPhone's main menu is a button that connects iPhone owners to more than 10,000 YouTube videos specially formatted for the device. To do it, YouTube converted clips from the Flash format to H.264. The iPhone is not compatible with Flash.

I took a quick look on a co-worker's iPhone and found six or so clips that appear without their owner's permission. In addition to Tur's material, there were clips from Adult Swim, the comedy cable channel operated by Turner Broadcasting. A Turner spokeswoman said the animated shorts were uploaded to YouTube without permission.

An unauthorized highlight clip of French soccer great Thierry Henry also appears without permission of England's Premier League, according to Louis Solomon, an attorney from the New York-based law firm of Proskauer Rose, which has brought a class action suit against Google and YouTube on behalf of some of the world's top professional soccer leagues.

YouTube has said it plans to reformat its entire video library for the iPhone. Does that mean litigious times are ahead for Jobs & Co.?

Featured Video