Peter Kafka

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It’s Almost Showtime: YouTube-Viacom Documents Unsealed Tomorrow

UPDATE: You can see all the documents here.

Finally, a milestone in the long-running YouTube-Viacom copyright lawsuit: The two sides are about to release a flood of previously sealed documents.

Following the instructions of U.S. District Judge Louis Stanton, the two sides are scheduled to unseal the complaints and much of the supporting paperwork they’ve filed in the case tomorrow morning. The crux of the legal fight, which stretches back three years: Viacom (VIA) argues that Google’s (GOOG) video site violated its copyright by streaming clips of its shows, while YouTube argues that its actions are protected by federal law.

Release of the documents won’t have any legal bearing on the case. Judge Stanton is currently mulling both sides’ request for a summary judgment, and he’s already got his hands on all of this stuff.

Still, the documents should lay out, for the first time, the most compelling evidence both sides are using to make their arguments. Since the case has primarily been fought behind closed doors, we can only guess about what we’ll see. Presumably much of the most compelling stuff will come from depositions both sides conducted and from data detailing when different videos were uploaded and who uploaded them.

But here are some thoughts to keep in mind tomorrow as the paperwork starts flowing–and as both sides start spinning:

  • Does Viacom have compelling evidence that YouTube employees and managers knew the site was running the cable programmer’s stuff but didn’t try to stop it–or even worse, encouraged it? YouTube’s central defense in the case is that it doesn’t know and can’t control what users are uploading to the site, which means it is shielded by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. If Viacom can prove otherwise, that’s a big deal.
  • You can also flip the argument: Can YouTube prove that Viacom employees and management encouraged uploads of their stuff to the site? If so, it should make the argument that they’ve been damaged much harder to prove.

Given that Viacom’s lawyers pushed to unseal the documents on a faster timeline than YouTube wanted, it’s tempting to assume the paperwork we see tomorrow bolsters their case. But we won’t know until we can wade through this stuff ourselves.

Meanwhile, YouTube wants us to note that it is now uploading 24 hours of content every minute–up from 20 hours a minute last May. Here’s one of the most popular clips on the site today: