YouTube beats Viacom again in copyright suit


YouTubeViacom lost another legal round in seeking as much as $1 billion from Google/YouTube for allegedly violating copyrights on YouTube. A federal judge in New York concluded that Viacom doesn’t have “the kind of evidence that would allow a clip-by-clip assessment of actual knowledge.”

U.S. District Judge Louis Stanton ruled 4/18 that YouTube had not violated Viacom’s copyright even though users of the popular site were allowed to post unauthorized video clips from some of Viacom’s shows, including Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” and Nickelodeon’s “SpongeBob SquarePants.”

Viacom filed the copyright infringement suit in 2007 and demanded that YouTube pay $1 billion in damages. The case has been closely watched because media companies had hoped the courts would help enforce their copyright protections because the Internet made it so easy for people to pirate clips from their TV shows.

Judge Stanton wrote in a 24-page opinion that YouTube was shielded from copyright infringement claims by a safe-harbor provision in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Stanton dismissed Viacom’s lawsuit, and ordered Viacom to pay some of YouTube’s costs, reported The LA Times.

“The court correctly rejected Viacom’s lawsuit against YouTube, reaffirming that Congress got it right when it comes to copyright on the Internet,” Google’s general counsel Kent Walker said in a statement. “This is a win not just for YouTube, but for people everywhere who depend on the Internet to exchange ideas and information.”

YouTube founder Chad Hurley taunted Viacom Chief Executive Philippe Dauman, a longtime corporate lawyer, in a Twitter message, asking: “Hey Philippe, wanna grab a beer to celebrate?! YouTube Again Beats Viacom’s Massive Copyright Infringement Lawsuit.”

This is the second time that arguments of Viacomhave been rejected. In 2010, Stanton ruled against Viacom in favor of YouTube in the case, and Viacom appealed. A year ago, an appeals court panel revived the case. That group of judges said the safe-harbor provision protected Internet services companies from liability if they lacked specific knowledge that a piece of infringing material existed — or if they acted quickly to remove the material once notified.

The case was sent back to Stanton. Viacom argued that it was impossible to prove that YouTube had specific knowledge that certain clips were protected.

But Stanton determined that the sheer volume of content uploaded onto YouTube made it impractical for the video site to know when an infringing clip appeared. The burden, the judge said, fell to Viacom to alert YouTube when unauthorized uses of its copyrighted material popped up on the site.

On Thursday, Viacom vowed to appeal once again, reported The LA Times. “This ruling ignores the opinions of the higher courts and completely disregards the rights of creative artists,” Viacom said in a statement. “We continue to believe that a jury should weigh the facts of this case and the overwhelming evidence that YouTube willfully infringed on our rights, and we intend to appeal the decision.”

See The LA Times story here.

RBR-TVBR observation: The ruling makes sense in that there is ample evidence that YouTube pulls down copyrighted videos when notified by the rights holders. We’ve seen it plenty of times. The nature of YouTube allows any user to post whatever they want. Unless there is some way to technically disallow posting of flag posting that violates copyright, you can’t ask YouTube to find them all manually. As long as the company acts in good faith when notified by rights holders in the meantime, that about all that can be asked. Asking for $1 Billion in damages was a bit much to prove, obviously, as well.