Viacom: It's not who, but how many

Company won't learn who's viewing its videos on YouTube

If you watch Comedy Central clips of Jon Stewart on YouTube, your secret is safe from Viacom.

In a compromise that ought to calm the fears of those who seek online anonymity, Viacom will be told how many users are viewing its content on YouTube but will not be told their names.

Viacom's declaration Tuesday is an important step in its $1 billion lawsuit against YouTube parent Google because it should satisfy privacy advocates who might otherwise have created a PR nightmare for the media conglomerate.

Viacom is the largest of several entities that are suing Google for enabling users to post to YouTube clips of content recorded from TV. But after a judge ruled that Google should turn over its YouTube user data to Viacom, YouTube enthusiasts objected.

Viacom, though, said that it has no use for data on individuals but just needs to know how popular its content is at the site. Therefore, it has agreed to get numbers from Google, not names.

Not included in the agreement, though, are names of YouTube and Google employees who watch Viacom content on YouTube. Viacom has so far retained rights to those names so that it might prove that it's reasonable to assume that Google should have known that its YouTube site was facilitating copyright infringement.

"We are pleased that Google will comply with the court's directive to provide YouTube usage data, information that will highlight the way YouTube has used copyrighted material to build its business," Viacom said. "Agreeing to our suggestion to anonymize the end-user data is the best way for Google to address privacy concerns."

The lawsuit is expected to be in the discovery phase through the year, with a trial beginning as early as mid-2009.