SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - A Google attorney on Thursday fought to behead a zombie-video maker's class action seeking millions of dollars from YouTube for abruptly dropping ads from videos deemed violent or objectionable.
Plaintiffs James Sweet, Chuck Mere and their Arkansas-based company Zombie Go Boom sued YouTube in July 2017, claiming the online video service abruptly changed its rules in the last year, resulting in a more than 90 percent drop in ad revenue.
The plaintiffs, who create satirical and often-gory skits about killing zombies, seek to recover millions in lost income for themselves and other content providers affected by YouTube's change in policy, which the plaintiffs dubbed the "Adpocalyse."
"YouTube has no obligation to run ads," attorney Maura Rees, of Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, argued in court Thursday.
During the motion to dismiss hearing, U.S. District Judge Edward Chen appeared inclined to accept Google's argument that its contract with content providers gives it unfettered control to post and pull ads from videos.
The abrupt change in rules came in March 2017 as YouTube faced mounting criticism for pairings ads with racist and violent content, including neo-Nazi and ISIL support videos. That's when YouTube unveiled a "secret" rating system that allowed advertisers to pull ads for certain categories of content.
Zombie Go Boom attorney Adrian Bacon, of the Todd Friedman firm, said YouTube's agreement is so lopsided, it should be rendered unconscionable and invalid by the court.
"Imagine if Uber had a contract with drivers that said we'll just give you whatever fare we want after you finish a ride," Bacon argued.
Chen appeared skeptical of that argument, noting that he would need to find YouTube's agreement so unfair and one-sided that it provides virtually no benefit to the content providers.
YouTube offers a popular online forum where users can post videos for free, and it shares 55 percent of advertising and subscription revenues with content providers, Chen said.
"In this case, there is adequate consideration that supports the agreement between Zombie Go Boom and YouTube," the judge said.
Bacon contended that YouTube broke promises it made in its partner program policies, which assured content providers that ads would only be pulled from videos that violate the company's community guidelines, terms of service and other requirements.
But Google maintains that the agreement still gives it unfettered discretion to pull ads from videos, and that the contract is by no means so one-sided as to make it invalid under the law.
"YouTube is providing a service for free, providing bandwidth, hosting, a worldwide audience," Rees said. "These are all things the plaintiffs benefits from, not a wholly one-sided situation which is what you would have to find for unconscionability."
In February 2017, the plaintiffs earned about $10,000 in ad revenue from YouTube. After the "Adpocalypse," the amount of money Zombie Go Boom earned from one million views dropped from $1,000 to $2,000 to approximately $150, according to the complaint.