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Mark Cuban courts YouTube foe

Internet billionaire is interested in buying Los Angeles news agency that is locked in a legal battle with YouTube.

Mark Cuban, one of YouTube's most outspoken critics, has expressed interest in buying a news organization that has filed a lawsuit against the video-sharing company.

The company Cuban is eyeing is the Los Angeles News Service, a relatively small television news operation based in Los Angeles. The company's owner is Robert Tur, a famed helicopter pilot and journalist who alleged in a lawsuit last July that YouTube encouraged users to violate copyright law. Tur filed suit after finding that someone had posted some of his footage, including images from the 1992 Los Angeles riots, on YouTube without his permission.

Cuban is the owner of the Dallas Mavericks and co-founder of HDNet, the first TV network to broadcast exclusively in high definition. So why does a fledgling network need to buy a small news organization that produces easily leased video?

"They are the first company to cover news in high definition in LA," Cuban said via e-mail. "That's very valuable to me."

Tur began shooting in the high-definition format in 1997, but the jewels of his video library--exclusive footage from the Los Angeles riots and the police chase of O.J. Simpson--were not shot in high definition. While Tur's Highdefinition.net domain and HDNet-compatible content are likely major attractions, Cuban's interest in the LA company is bound to raise questions about whether he is on some kind of personal crusade against YouTube, something he vehemently denies.

In September, Cuban appeared before a group of advertisers in New York. He told the crowd that only a "moron" would buy YouTube and that the company was sure to be sued into oblivion.

Last month, soon after Google announced that it would acquire YouTube, he again caused a stir when he found an anonymously written blog on a media Web site and . Included in the post were accusations that Google tried to eliminate YouTube's copyright problems by paying off large media companies.

Google CEO Eric Schmidt later denied the accusation. A YouTube representative declined to comment on the matter.

The anonymously written blog also asserted that Google conspired with entertainment companies to file lawsuits against YouTube's competitors to prevent them from gaining ground on the video-sharing company.

Should Cuban acquire Tur's company, he might have a chance to see for himself whether any of the allegations are true. Because of his lawsuit, Tur could be entitled to see some of YouTube's internal documents as part of the discovery phase of his case. Cuban said he isn't interested in acquiring Tur's company for that reason.

On the contrary, Cuban said, he has spoken out in favor of companies accused of copyright violations in the past. He took a strong stance against the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), the law that makes it illegal to develop technologies designed to circumvent copyright protection measures. Cuban criticized the law because he says it's little more than a tool for the movie industry to strengthen their copyright at the expense of innovation.

"Copyright is a topic I've been interested in for a long time," Cuban wrote in an e-mail. "Anyone who thinks this is a new thing for me to talk about or a jihad just isn't aware of my history."

As for YouTube's leadership, Cuban wrote, "I have never met those guys and wish them the best. I don't have feelings one way or the other for them or the company...In fact, I appreciate that they let me use their bandwidth to host things."

Tur declined to provide any details about the negotiations with Cuban. "Mark is a great guy and a visionary," Tur said. "I really can't talk about anything."

Cuban isn't the only deep-pocket entity that has made inquiries about buying the Los Angeles News Service, Tur said. Among those who have expressed interest since Tur filed his suit is one of YouTube's competitors, according to Tur, who declined to name the company.

As for YouTube, Tur said the popular video-sharing site has offered to settle the case. YouTube representatives inquired whether Tur would be interested in receiving a share of the advertising revenue generated by his video clips, according to Tur. YouTube has also offered to license Tur's footage, he said. Tur and his attorney are reviewing the offers.

On Tuesday, Tur filed a motion for summary adjudication, which called on the judge to throw out one of YouTube's main defenses, according to a copy of the filing seen by CNET News.com.

YouTube has asserted that under the DMCA's safe-harbor provision, the company is not responsible for any copyright violations committed by users. Tur's attorney, Francis Pizzulli, wrote in the motion that YouTube fails to qualify under the provision because the company has profited directly from Tur's footage, noting that YouTube has sold advertisements that appear alongside some of the copyright-infringing clips.

The DMCA specifies that companies seeking protection must not benefit financially from any infringing material.

Zahavah Levine, YouTube's general counsel, said Tur's lawsuit is "without merit." The company declined to comment on Tur's assertion that the company offered to settle the case.

"YouTube is a service provider that complies with all the provisions of the (DMCA)," Levine said in an e-mail. "(YouTube) is entitled to the full protections of the safe-harbor provisions of the DMCA. We pride ourselves on our outstanding record of working in close cooperation with copyright holders to promptly remove from our site any unauthorized material."