YouTube wins $1B lawsuit against Viacom

Viacom’s $1 billion lawsuit against YouTube for copyright infringement has been dismissed by a Federal District Court  Judge in New York.

Media titan Viacom Inc. had alleged that YouTube, acquired by Google Inc. in 2006, was engaged in promoting unlicensed videos taken from Viacom’s cable channels such as Nickleodeon, MTV and Comedy Central.

However a U.S. District Judge, in a summary judgement in Viacom Inc & Ors v Google granted a motion for summary judgement in Google’s favour, ruling that YouTube removed illegal video promptly as required by federal copyright law.

The Judge ruled that YouTube had availed itself of the safe harbour provisions of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) against Viacom’s claims of copyright infringement. The safe harbour provisions require that online intermediaries designate an agent to respond to copyright notices and take action to remove offending copyright material expeditiously when requested.

The safe harbour provisions protect providers of online services such as YouTube when they co-operate with copyright holders to assist them in managing their copyright rights online.

After surveying the legislative intent of the DMCA safe harbour provisions for online location reference tools such as Google, the Court stated that having actual knowledge of infringing activity requires knowledge of specific and identifiable infringements of particular individual items rather than a general knowledge of a propensity of users to upload infringing content.

Drawing upon judicial precedent in Perfect 10 Inc v CCBill LLC, Corbis Corp v Amazon. Inc., and Tiffany Inc v eBay Inc, cases involving allegations of contributory infringement, the Judge concluded that the  DMCA notification procedures placed the responsibility on copyright owners to police copyright infringements of their works, and that burden couldn’t be shifted to an online intermediary.  The Court concluded that the Grokster line of peer to peer file sharing cases relied upon by the Plaintiffs were inapplicable to the case before him.

Viacom had alleged that YouTube’s business model revolved around infringing copyright material being placed upon their website. Viacom evinced evidence of numerous communications which showed that those who established YouTube intended to profit from copyright infringement occurring on YouTube.

Google responded by saying that Viacom had continued to secretly upload it’s content, engaging more than eighteen different marketing agencies to assist it in this task, whilst  publicly complained about the presence of the content. YouTube claimed that Viacom intentionally roughed up videos to make them appear stolen, opening YouTube accounts using fake email addresses and arranged for their employees to upload content to YouTube in a way that couldn’t be traced to Viacom. Viacom’s policy was to leave it’s own content from shows which had been uploaded by users, with the endorsement of high ranking Executives of the Comedy Central and MTV networks.

Google have labelled the victory as an important one for billions of individuals who use the video sharing website to share their experiences.

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