I wouldn’t overreact to this, because in my experience confidentiality orders work very well, but it is certainly newsworthy:

A U.S. judge’s order to Google Inc to turn over YouTube user data to Viacom Inc sparked an outcry on Thursday from privacy advocates in the midst of a legal showdown over video piracy.

Viacom, owner of movie studio Paramount and MTV Networks, requested the information as part of its $1 billion copyright infringement lawsuit against the popular online video service and its deep-pocketed parent, Google.

Judge Louis Stanton of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York ordered Google on Tuesday to turn over as evidence a database with usernames of YouTube viewers, what videos they watched when, and users’ computer addresses.

What was Judge Stanton thinking? Read the opinion here and find out. This, however, appears to be the heart of it:

Defendants argue that the data should not be disclosed because of the users’ privacy concerns, saying that “Plaintiffs would likely be able to determine the viewing and video uploading habits of YouTube’s users based on the user’s login ID and the user’s IP address.” But defendants cite no authority barring them from disclosing such information in civil discovery proceedings, and their privacy concerns are speculative. Defendants do not refute that the “login ID is an anonymous pseudonym that users create for themselves when they sign up with YouTube” which without more “cannot identify specific individuals,” and Google has elsewhere stated:

We . . . are strong supporters of the idea that data protection laws should apply to any data that could identify you. The reality is though that in most cases, an IP address without additional information cannot.

Google Software Engineer Alma Whitten, Are IP addresses personal?, GOOGLE PUBLIC POLICY BLOG (Feb. 22, 2008).

I think that’s a little bit of an “ouch.” It’s also pretty obvious to anyone who’s every tried to get much of any information from IP addresses, most of which turn out to be ISP’s. Still there’s something about being hoisted by your own cyber-petard, no?

It happens a lot, by the way. Any litigator who isn’t googling his opponents, their principals, employees and witnesses is not doing his job any more.

By Ron Coleman

I write this blog.