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NEW YORK — YouTube wants to question comedians Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert as part of its defense against claims that it illegally airs Internet snippets of sports and entertainment videos.
The request, which surfaced Tuesday in court documents, was made last week to the judge presiding over lawsuits brought against YouTube by Viacom International Inc., England’s top soccer league — the Football Association Premier League Ltd. — and indie music publisher Bourne Co.
The lawsuits claim, in essence, that YouTube profits from massive copyright infringement of television programs and feature films. The documents seeking the depositions pertained only to the Viacom lawsuit.
YouTube says it needs depositions from more than 30 people to fight legal challenges that “threaten to silence communications by hundreds of millions of people across the globe who exchange information, news and entertainment” through its Internet product.
YouTube, owned by Google Inc., said it plans to show that it respects the importance of intellectual property rights by proving it goes well beyond what is required under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. That law gives Web hosts protection from copyright lawsuits so long as they comply with requests to remove unauthorized material.
YouTube has said it cooperates with holders of copyrights and immediately complies with requests to have unauthorized material removed from the site.
The company said it also intends to show that the plaintiffs themselves had put their own works on YouTube or permitted others to do the same.
The company did not say exactly what it intended to gain from questioning Stewart and Colbert.
Colbert hosts “The Colbert Report,” a spinoff of “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart.”
Viacom spokesman Jeremy Zweig said the company had no comment on the court document.
YouTube began two years ago, when one of its two California founders sought a way to send videos of his children to relatives on the East Coast.
Viacom sought $1 billion in damages for what it said was unauthorized viewing of programs from MTV, Comedy Central and other networks, like “The Daily Show.”
In their lawsuit, the soccer league and indie music publisher sought unspecified damages and any profits YouTube made as a result of the sharing of copyrighted videos. The lawsuits were combined before a single judge for trial purposes.
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