Remember, for months they were trying to reach a licensing deal for Viacom’s content, which includes Stewart, Colbert, South Park and other YT staples. Then Viacom balked, told them to pull 100,000 videos, and struck a deal with Joost instead.

Now they want to do a little damage.

The complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York contends that nearly 160,000 unauthorized clips of Viacom’s entertainment programming have been available on YouTube and that these clips had been viewed more than 1.5 billion times…

In a statement, Viacom blasted what it deemed YouTube’s “clearly illegal” business model, riding on advertising sales and traffic tied to “unlicensed content.” The media giant accused YouTube of building “a lucrative business out of exploiting the devotion of fans to others’ creative works in order to enrich itself and its corporate parent Google.”

“In fact, YouTube’s strategy has been to avoid taking proactive steps to curtail the infringement on its site, thus generating significant traffic and revenues for itself while shifting the entire burden–and high cost–of monitoring YouTube onto the victims of its infringement,” Viacom said in a statement.

It’s the boldfaced part that’s key, I think. The Online Copyright Infringement Liability Limitation Act protects service providers, but only if they meet the requirements of the safe harbor. Presumably the case will turn on whether YT’s failure to implement copyright-detection software on its site runs afoul of those requirements, especially the one about accommodating “standard technical measures” to ID copyrighted works.

Viacom initially was going to partner with some other media conglomerates to form an alternative to YouTube, but they pulled out of that late last year. Since then, they’ve done something very smart — they’ve created their own embeddable clips, one of which was featured on this very site just last week. I’ve wondered for months why the cable news networks haven’t done that with their news shows. Put your best clips online as soon as they air, in embeddable format, with a 10-second ad right up front. We’ll post ’em; they’d make my job a hell of a lot easier, quite frankly. The downsides of doing it that way instead of letting consumers upload them are (a) we’d probably have to wait several hours until the shows had aired on the west coast before the network made them available, and (b) the clips wouldn’t be edited to emphasize the part we want our readers to see. It’d be easy enough, I guess, to work around that with time cues, but ideally, eventually, an additional widget would be built in to the embeddable player that would let you “edit” inside the window to show only the segment you wanted to show. Once that happens — “editable” clips, embeddable viewers, made available instantly after a show airs — then YouTube is out of business. Except as a repository for Truther videos and the continuing adventures of lonelygirl15.

Exit question: How much will Viacom settle for?

Update: Commenter JayHaw Phrenzie thinks GooTube’s got no choice but to go to the mattresses. A settlement will have everyone lining up at the trough. Maybe — or maybe it’ll just give media companies vastly more favorable terms on which to negotiate licensing deals with YouTube.

Tags: New York