June 24, 2010
Intellectual Property, Internet & E-Commerce Alerts

YouTube Prevails in Viacom's $1 Billion Copyright Infringement Lawsuit
by Cyrus Wadia

In a major victory for Google's YouTube video sharing service, a U.S. District Court Judge in New York yesterday ruled that YouTube's compliance with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act's notice and takedown procedures insulated it from Viacom's claims for over $1 billion in copyright infringement liability.
The Court relied heavily on the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) in granting Google's motion for summary judgment against Viacom.  The DMCA's safe harbor provisions preclude monetary liability on a "service provider . . . for infringement of copyright by reason of the storage at the direction of a user of material that resides on a system or network controlled or operated by or for the service provider."  The DMCA places the burden of notifying a service provider of potential infringement on the copyright holder, and affords a safe harbor to such service provider if that service provider complies with certain notice and takedown procedures in response to such notifications.
Here, the court found that Google's system for responding to notices of copyright infringement, including those submitted by Viacom, was sufficient to provide it a safe harbor under the DMCA.  The court looked extensively at the purposes and legislative history behind the DMCA's safe harbor provision, and noted that "To let knowledge of a generalized practice of infringement in the industry, or of a proclivity of users to post infringing materials, impose responsibility on service providers to discovery which of their users' postings infringe a copyright would contravene the structure and operation of the DMCA."
The Court noted that it would not shift the burden from the copyright holder to the internet service provider, stating that "the infringing works in suit may be a small fraction of millions of works posted by others on the service's platform, whose provider cannot by inspection determine whether the use has been licensed by the owner, or whether its posting is a "fair use" of the material, or even whether its copyright owner or licensee objects to its posting.  The DMCA is explicit: it shall not be construed to condition "safe harbor" protection on "a service provider monitoring its service or affirmatively seeking facts indicating infringing activity."
Viacom has indicated its intent to appeal the decision.
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