Court Rules Viacom Not Entitled To Google Trade Secrets

Viacom's Daily Show with Jon StewartA federal judge ruled Wednesday that Google need not reveal details of its search algorithm or ad platform to Viacom, which had requested the information as part of its $1 billion copyright infringement lawsuit.

In a 25-page order, U.S. District Judge Louis Stanton in New York ruled that Viacom had not presented a good reason to force Google to reveal trade secrets like its search formula. "The search code is the product of over a thousand person-years of work," Stanton wrote. "There is no dispute that its secrecy is of enormous commercial value. Someone with access to it could readily perceive its basic design principles, and cause catastrophic competitive harm to Google."

Stanton also ruled that Viacom was not entitled to learn the details of Google's ad platform.

But the ruling did not go completely in Google's favor. Stanton ordered Google to provide Viacom with information about all videos that have been removed from the site--a figure that Google pegs in the millions.

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Viacom filed the lawsuit against Google in March 2007, alleging that Google's video-sharing site, YouTube, profited from pirated clips. The companies had attempted to reach an agreement, but talks collapsed sometime in early 2007. About one month before filing suit, Viacom demanded that YouTube remove more than 100,000 videos on the site, including popular clips from "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart" and "The Colbert Report."

Google has argued that the case should be dismissed because the federal Digital Millennium Copyright Act's safe harbor provisions protect it from liability as long as it removes infringing clips upon request. But those provisions do not apply if a Web site directly profits from piracy. Here, Viacom alleges that YouTube profited from infringement because it built its business by drawing users with copyrighted clips.

Viacom had asked Stanton to order that Google reveal details about its search algorithm to bolster a claim that Google deliberately designed the product to make it easy to find infringing material. Stanton ruled Wednesday that Viacom was not entitled to that information because there was no proof that the search engine could tell whether videos were pirated.

"A plausible showing ... 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," he wrote.

Viacom also requested ad-related information in order to determine whether Google knew that infringing clips were allegedly drawing ad dollars. But Stanton ruled that ad-related data should remain confidential, stating that Viacom could find other evidence on this point.

Viacom had also requested information about videos marked "private," so that only specified users could view them. Stanton rejected a portion of that request, but ordered Google to disclose the number of times videos have been viewed on YouTube or through embedding on other sites.

The case isn't expected to go to trial until next year.

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