Italian broadcaster seeks $779 million

Italy’s Mediaset is the latest company to declare war on video-sharing website YouTube.

The Italo broadcaster owned by premier Silvio Berlusconi announced on Wednesday that it’s seeking damages of “at least” E500 million ($779 million) from YouTube and its owner Google for “illegal distribution and commercial use of audio and video files.”

In a statement on Wednesday, Mediaset claimed that a trawl through the YouTube site on June 10 revealed 4,643 clips and 325 hours of Mediaset material.

“Given the information that’s come to light and the quantity of illegal files on the site, it’s possible to say that the group’s three TV channels lost 315,672 audience viewing days,” it said.

In addition to the claim for $779 million filed with a Rome court, Mediaset said it would be seeking compensation for the effect that the lost viewing hours would have on advertising revenues.

Mediaset’s move adds to the growing sense that the lawyers are now circling video and file-sharing sites. On Monday it emerged that police have shut down Italy’s biggest music- and film-sharing network, Colombo-BT.org.

And YouTube, which was bought by Google in 2006, is already facing a $1 billion copyright infringement lawsuit from Viacom, which owns MTV Networks and Paramount Pictures.

When Viacom initiated legal action in March 2007, it said it had found about 160,000 unauthorized clips of its programs on the website that had been viewed more than 1.5 billion times.

YouTube has since introduced filtering tools in an effort to prevent content that infringes copyright from appearing on the site. There are doubts about their effectiveness, however. A YouTube spokesman said: “There is no need for legal action and all the associated costs. We prohibit users from uploading infringing material, and we cooperate with all copyright holders to identify and promptly remove infringing content as soon as we are officially notified.”

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