The legal battle between Megaupload and Universal Music Group continues to unfold in the most unexpected ways, with yesterday’s revelation from UMG creating a whole host of new questions about what’s going on over at YouTube. Does the company really allow its corporate partners to remove any videos they doesn’t happen to like?
Since the lawsuit against UMG was filed earlier this week, all manner of weirdness has surrounded the takedown of Megaupload’s music video, which featured artists supporting the cloud storage site: YouTube claimed that it wasn’t just UMG’s complaint that caused them to remove it, but one from artist Will.i.am as well. Will.i.am’s legal team agreed, but the artist himself has apparently personally denied this to Megaupload’s founder, Kim Dotcom. The video has reappeared on YouTube, but even as Dotcom claims victory, everyone else is wondering about a clause that UMG claims is in its contract with YouTube, allowing it to take down videos that meet “a number of contractually specified criteria.”
UMG lodged an objection against Megaupload’s lawsuit yesterday that explained UMG had not, as was believed, used the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to remove the offending video, but instead taken advantage of an agreement between the company and YouTube that allows UMG to use a “Content Management System” that can remove or “file block” certain videos on the site if it finds them objectionable. “As you know,” a letter from UMG attorney Kelly Klaus to YouTube legal director Lance Kavanaugh submitted as part of the objection states, “UMG’s rights in this regard are not limited to copyright infringement, as set forth more completely in the March 31, 2009 Video License Agreement for UCG Video Service Providers, including without limitation Paragraphs 1(b) and 1(g) thereof.”
The agreement in question–apparently the VEVO partnership between Google and UMG–is not public, meaning that no one outside of those companies knows exactly how long UMG’s reach within YouTube actually is. Megaupload’s legal team has, as you might expect, already said that it will be asking the court for access to this agreement. Is it possible that UMG has the right to control what videos YouTube allows on the site, even if no copyright infringement is occurring? UMG certainly seems to think so, and if that’s the case, then what other companies have similar powers?
YouTube has not commented on the matter yet, but expect that to change sooner rather than later.
UPDATE: A YouTube spokesperson has sent the following statement, seemingly refuting UMG’s claim:
Our partners do not have the right to take down videos from YT unless they own the rights to them or they are live performances controlled through exclusive agreements with their artists, which is why we reinstated it.
Graeme McMillan is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @Graemem or on Facebook at Facebook/Graeme.McMillan. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.