VW Subpoenas over YouTube Spoof – A Question of Privacy or PR?

It’s no news that major corporations are pushing hard to develop a positive image using social networking channels — see the McDonald’s Quality Correspondence Campaign or the backfired Wal-Mart blogging foray — and neither is it news that companies aren’t afraid to use legal recourse to protect their interests… Napster, anyone? But an interesting article about a VW Subpoena to YouTube that appeared in Wired this morning shows a different mix of the two forces: a company taking legal action to protect its copyrighted material, which just so happens to be a piece of negative PR.

Basically, the video in contention is a spoof of a recent VW Golf commercial with some rather unflattering Nazi-themed overtones. Volkswagen filed a subpoena and is now looking to get the user’s identity from YouTube, who complies with the law but alerts users of the filing to give them a chance to respond. While this sort of thing is almost a daily occurrence with file-sharing networks, legal action with social media sites is a relatively new beast, and Wired wonders how dedicated social media sites will be to protecting the identities of their users as more cases like this appear.

As I touched on a couple of weeks ago, the web has a funny way of making temporal comments permanent, and biting those who post things against their better judgment. With major companies taking assertive (and certainly not unreasonable) motions to protect their copyright (and brand), users should really be aware that they’re playing in the real world when they post anything online. At the same time, social media sharing sites should do their best to protect their users — within limits — from themselves.