See YouTube in Court
The phenomenon of user generated content and social networking sites still sits awkwardly with legislation. As the Web 2.0 companies continue to work out how to best profit from their huge reach, there is still dispute as to who owns the content and data and what they are allowed to do with it.
Breach of privacy
Facebook is under investigation by Canada's federal privacy commissioner following complaints by four students. The University of Ottawa law students claimed that the popular social networking site discloses personal information to advertisers without proper consent, violating a total off 22 different legislations.
Canadian laws states that sensitive information, such as sexuality, personal addresses and date of birth cannot be passed on without the explicit consent from the individual. Facebook requires users to specifically change their setting to keep the information private.
Harley Finkelstein, one of the students making the complaint said: "There's definitely some significant shortcomings with Facebook's privacy settings and with their ability to protect users."
Facebook contested the claim citing how the company's policies reveal that members of the site freely share their personal information.
"We've reviewed the complaint and found it has serious factual errors - most notably its neglect of the fact that almost all Facebook data is willingly shared by users," said Chris Kelly, chief privacy officer, Facebook.
However, Finkelstein disagrees as even on the strongest privacy setting, disclosure of information is dependent on the settings of friends.
"Our investigation found that this is not entirely true. For example, even if you select the strongest privacy settings, your information may be shared more widely if your Facebook Friends have lower privacy settings. As well, if you add a third-party application offered on Facebook, you have no choice but to let the application developer access all your information even if they don't need it," he said.
Breach of copyright
Viacom, which owns both Paramount Pictures and DreamWorks, cited that there were nearly 160,000 unauthorised clips of Viacom-owned content. Television shows such as South Park and SpongeBob SquarePants had been illegally uploaded to the video-sharing site with Google doing "little or nothing" to stop the infringement.
"YouTube appropriates the value of creative content on a massive scale for YouTube's benefit without payment or license. YouTube's brazen disregard of the intellectual-property laws fundamentally threatens not just plaintiffs but the economic underpinnings of one of the most important sectors of the United States economy," said Viacom in the complaint.
Google, who acquired YouTube for $1.65 billion last October, has responded to the lawsuit claiming that it "threatens the way hundreds of millions of people legitimately exchange information, news, entertainment, and political and artistic expression." The company also argued how it had gone "far beyond its legal obligations in assisting content owners to protect their works".
According to the search giant, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act protects YouTube from copyright infringement as long as the company continues to act swiftly to remove the material once it has been reported.
Google attempted to resolve the issue last year when it introduced a content checking system to prevent copyrighted material from being uploaded. However, Viacom argues that YouTube's business model is reliant on copyrighted content and has not done enough to address this.