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YouTube privacy at risk in Google-Viacom ruling

Federal judge rules search giant doesn't have to turn over the code to Viacom, but YouTube users are not so fortunate with their privacy.

Google scored a legal victory in keeping its search source code secret from Viacom, but YouTube users were not so fortunate with their privacy.

A federal judge ruled on Wednesday (PDF) that the search giant doesn't have to turn over the code to Viacom, which filed a $1 billion copyright infringement lawsuit against Google in 2007.

In granting Google's motion for a protective order, U.S. District Judge Louis L. Stanton in Manhattan agreed with Google's characterization of the source code as a trade secret that can't be disclosed without risking the loss of business.

"YouTube and Google should not be made to place this vital asset in hazard merely to allay speculation," the judge said. "A plausible showing that YouTube and Google's denials are false, and that the search function can and has been used to discriminate in favor of infringing content, should be required before disclosure of so valuable and vulnerable an asset is compelled."

The judge also denied Viacom's motion for Google to produce source code for its Video Identification Tool, which helps copyright notify Google of copyright infringement.

However, the judge granted a Viacom motion that records of every video watched by YouTube users, including their login names and IP addresses, be turned over to the entertainment giant.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation called the ruling a threat to YouTube users' privacy.

"The court's order grants Viacom's request and erroneously ignores the protections of the federal Video Privacy Protection Act (VPPA), and threatens to expose deeply private information about what videos are watched by YouTube users," the EFF said in a statement.

At stake in the legal battle is a key part of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), the 1998 law that shields Web site owners from copyright infringement involving material published by users. The "safe harbor" provision in the law can protect against infringement claims as long as copyrighted material is removed upon notification.

After the suit, YouTube launched an antipiracy tool that checks uploaded videos against the original content in an effort to flag piracy.