Viacom did a general search on YouTube for any term related to any of its shows, and then spammed YouTube with 100,000 DMCA take-down notices alleging that all of these clips infringed its copyright and demanding that they be censored off the Internet. YouTube made thousands of clips vanish, and sent warning notices to the people who'd posted them, warning them that they were now on a list of potential copyright infringers and telling them that repeat offenses could lead to having their accounts terminated.
This is shockingly bad behaviour on the part of both Viacom and Google, YouTube's owner. Viacom's indiscriminate spamigation is incredibly negligent and evil. They certainly know that a search for a term like "Redbones" will catch videos like Jim Moore's Sunday nite dinner at Redbones in Somerville, Mass (a 30 second clip of Moore and several friends "having dinner in a ribs place in Somerville"). The idea that they have members of the bar -- officers of the court! -- signing affidavits swearing that they have a good-faith belief that these clips infringe their copyrights is disgraceful. Practicing law is a privilege, not a right. The law societies should be holding these attorneys to account for this kind of behaviour.
But Google's lawyers should have known better, too. The DMCA says that if a web-hoster ignores a takedown request, it's liable for copyright damages if the material in question is found to be infringing. YouTube can't afford to just let any lunatic -- including the savage pricks at Viacom -- indiscriminately censor the content it hosts. That's not fair to its customers.
It would cost a lot in lawyer-hours to investigate takedown requests and pick out the ones worth paying attention to, but that's part of the cost of doing business as YouTube. It costs a lot to provide the bandwidth for the files, but YouTube/Google wouldn't dream of skimping on connectivity. Lawyer-letters are just another load that GooTube needs to provision for.
And Google can take steps now to reduce that load: sue the living shit out of Viacom. We've got precedent -- the Diebold debacle -- for the idea that abusing the DMCA takedown process is illegal. Courts have been willing to punish this kind of excess by awarding fees and damages.
If Google sued every company that used indiscriminate takedown notices to remove material that it hosted -- on Blogger, YouTube, and elsewhere -- they'd put the fear of god into bullies like Viacom. They'd change the landscape so that DMCA notices were only used by people who were genuinely being ripped off, and not firehosed by idiots to every site that matches a search-term.
Big companies can sometimes make the world a better place by using the courts to set clear precedents that work for all of us. Sony gave us the Betamax decision. Verizon gave us RIAA v Verizon. Google could save us from takedown spammers.