The Wrath Of Viacom

Viacom declared war on Google by filing a $1 billion copyright lawsuit against the search portal over the actions of the popular YouTube video site.

YouTube, which serves as a repository for user-contributed video clips, was acquired by Google last fall. Since then, Google has been trying to shore up deals with major entertainment companies in order to fend off such a lawsuit, and has recently inked agreements with CBS, Warner Music Group and Sony BMG Music Entertainment.

But whatever Google offered Viacom apparently wasn’t enough. Last month Viacom ordered Google to yank more than 100,000 clips belonging to the entertainment giant, including material culled from Comedy Central and MTV. However, as of March 14th, clips of Comedy Central’s "The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report" were still a part of YouTube’s video stash.

Since the original notification, Viacom claims that it has identified more than 50,000 additional videos belonging to the company.

YouTube, which allows users to post video, no matter if it’s homemade or the latest episode of "24," has long maintained that it is only a service provider, and that it is exempt from most online copyright laws. Under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, service providers cannot be sued for users’ infringing activity. That is, as long as the providers remove the copyrighted material upon notification.

"We’re saying that the DMCA protects what we’re doing," said Alexander Macgillivray, Google’s associate general counsel for products and intellectual property. "The DMCA is silent on what we have to do if we don’t get a notice."

However, the DMCA became law back in 1998, when service providers were essentially Web hosting companies. The legal opinion at that time was the companies couldn’t be expected to act as copyright cops. Of course, that was before three ex-PayPal employees came up with the idea to create a site that would eventually host more than 100 million clips and receive more than 20 million visitors a month.

But removing copyrighted material from a Web site where users post more than 64,000 clips per day has to be a task of almost Herculean proportion. YouTube may have removed the specified vids last month, but users kept seeding the site with more MTV, more Spike, more TV Land and more of everything Viacom.

And Viacom isn’t mincing words in its lawsuit, saying YouTube "harnessed technology to willfully infringe copyrights on a huge scale," and had "brazen disregard" for intellectual property laws.

"There is no question that YouTube and Google are continuing to take the fruit of our efforts without permission and destroying enormous value in the process," Viacom said in a written statement. "This is value that rightfully belongs to the writers, directors and talent who created it and companies like Viacom that have invested to make possible this innovation and creativity."


The Slack Attack

There’s a new music streamer on the Net and it’s planning to take online music where no other Internet service has gone before. Like your car, beach, or wherever you may roam.

It’s called Slacker, and its new "Personal Radio" service does everything you would expect from an Internet radio station, including allowing you to select pre-programmed channels or have a custom transmission built around your personal favorites.

However, the difference between Slacker and current Internet radio offerings is that it will eventually market devices that will break the umbilical cord that currently tethers Net-based music services to computers.

To do that, Slacker has two gizmos in its product pipeline. The Slacker Portable Player will enable users to take their Slacker stations with them, while the Slacker Satellite Car Kit pretty much functions as the name implies, and allows users to receive music beamed from Slacker directly to their autos via satellite.

But don’t think of the gadgets as just modified radio receivers. Instead, consider them portable Net music devices. The plan calls for Slacker to "push" tracks whenever those devices detect a WiFi connection or can receive Slacker’s satellite feed. Once received, those tracks will be stored on the devices for later listening.

This means you don’t have to be connected to a computer, WiFi or satellite to listen to Slacker music. No need to plug in to turn on. The devices will play where ever you may be. It’s only to refresh the music that Slacker needs to touch base with the home office.

The basic Slacker service is free and ad-supported, and the company plans to launch a premium, ad-free service sometime during the second quarter that will cost $7.50 per month. Slacker Portable Players should appear sometime this summer, with prices starting at $150. At this time prices have not been set for the car kit, but the device is expected to ship later this year.

While Slacker is new on the scene, the company has already acquired rights from major labels like Sony BMG, Universal Music Group and hundreds of independent imprints. Plus, the people behind the service have already earned plenty of digital music cred.

Slacker’s co-founder and chief executive is Dennis Mudd, the co-founder and former chief exec of MusicMatch, Inc. For many people, their first exposure to managing digital music on their computers was through the MusicMatch jukebox software. In fact, MusicMatch was such a hit that Yahoo acquired the company back in 2004 for $160 million.

Slacker’s president is Jim Cady, the former chief exec of Rio, the company that pioneered MP3 players. Other major Slackers include company VP of sales Steve Cotter, who held down the same position at both Rio and Altec Lansing, and former chief exec of portable player maker iRiver America, Jonathan Sasse, is the VP of marketing.

"Personalized Radio is a great way to listen to the music you love without having to work at it," chief exec Mudd said. "The only problem is that until now, personalized radio has been stuck on the PC. Slacker solves that problem. Now you can just kick back and listen."


Wippit Good

Beatles fans will want to check out The British download site has acquired archival footage of the Fab Four, including early television interviews, the band meeting Queen Elizabeth and interviews with the lads while they were filming "Help."

The footage is the result of a deal between Wippit and news archival outfit ITN source and includes clips from British Pathé, Reuters and ITN collections. Many of the clips have not been seen publicly since the original air dates.

Some of the footage includes an interview with George Harrison while the "Quiet One" celebrated his 21st birthday, Paul McCartney talking about using LSD and John Lennon making political statements and promoting, along with Yoko Ono, howling as a form of expression.

The clips are available for download to just about the entire world except residents of North America. Price is 49p, (US 95 cents) per clip and £4.99 (US$ 9.66) per bundle.

"There is no other act on the planet that has, and continues to have a worldwide following that even comes close to what The Beatles still have 37 years after they split," Wippit founder and CEO Paul Myers said. "We believe that interest particularly from Japan and other parts of Asia will open up Wippit to a whole new audience."