Viacom sues Google

In the words of the immortal Gomer Pyle, “Surprise, surprise!”

Viacom moved its Queen today in the high stakes game of chicken chess with Google/YouTube over those copyrighted videos that we’ve written about so much. Viacom filed the suit in U.S. District Court in New York and is seeking $1 billion in damages.

In a statement, Viacom lawyers said, “YouTube’s strategy has been to avoid taking proactive steps to curtail the infringement on its site. Their business model, which is based on building traffic and selling advertising off of unlicensed content, is clearly illegal and is in obvious conflict with copyright laws.”

This had to happen, and it will be interesting to watch. In essence, the entire Hollywood entertainment hegemony is in the hands of the judicial system now, and I think that even if it wins, it loses. This will simply accelerate chaos and the ultimate creation of a new “Hollywood” spawned by the people formerly known as its customers.

You see, as J.D. Lasica noted in the subtitle of his powerful book, Darknet, Hollywood is at war with the digital generation, not YouTube or Google. It’s their customers they have the problem with, and they can’t sue every one of them (they would if they could). It’s their customers who are uploading the videos to share with their friends, and let me tell you this, the potential for backlash here is pretty significant. And what does it say about the long-term value of an industry that resorts to suing its own customers anyway?

And don’t be fooled by the dollar amount here. It’s a drop-in-the-bucket compared to what’s at stake.

Reaction is pouring in, and I’m only going to provide one link here. It’s to Umair Haque, the brilliant economic guru who never met an archaic business model he couldn’t deconstruct:

Nice one guys — it’s like putting off going to the gym…by ducking into Krispy Kreme.

Gamesmanship doesn’t buy you time or space — it’s just (a desperate) excuse to not meet the fundamental challenge of deep, sweeping strategic reinvention.

It’s the mark of a truly great firm to embrace this challenge head-on. Conversely, not having the imagination, vision, or appetite to embrace this challenge is usually the mark of a once-great firm slowly dragging itself past strategy decay and into strategic irrelevance.

I love Umair.


  1. I agree that Hollywood is at war with “digital” in general. But, I think it’s perfectly legitimate that Viacom put their foot down. I mean, YouTube has been flaunting piracy laws for some time now. And, to be honest, I feel it’s holding back internet television.

    I do feel that Viacom is embracing digital more and more, however. They are making some exciting changes at MTV Networks, and did that deal with Joost.

    They may be late to the game, but that doesn’t always mean failure. Apple didn’t “get” digital music for quite some time, but they now dominate the space.


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