Google scored a major victory Wednesday when a federal judge dismissed Viacom's $1bn copyright infringement lawsuit accusing the internet giant of turning a blind eye to rampant piracy on its YouTube video site.
The landmark decision is a huge win for other internet companies as well because it said they are shielded from copyright claims under provisions of the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Those so-called safe-harbor sections block copyright claims against internet service providers, search engines and social networking sites for infringing material posted by users as long as the companies remove it promptly after learning of the violation.
In a 30-page ruling, US District Judge Louis Stanton said Google had done just that when Viacom complained its TV shows had been posted to YouTube. It said the DMCA was clear that service providers don't have a responsibility to monitor their networks for infringement, and it explicitly rejected Viacom's arguments that Google shouldn't qualify for the protection because it was too slow to respond to take-down demands and because it profited from that delay.
“Indeed, the present case shows that the DMCA notification regime works efficiently: when Viacom over a period of months accumulated some 100,000 videos and then sent one mass take-down notice on February 2, 2007, by the next business day YouTube had removed virtually all of them,” Stanton wrote.
Elsewhere in the ruling the judge said: “Mere knowledge of prevalence of such activity in general is not enough. 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 discover which of their users' postings infringe a copyright would contravene the structure and operation of the DMCA.”
Viacom – owner of MTV, Comedy Central, and Nickelodeon – called the decision “fundamentally flawed” and vowed to appeal.
“We intend to seek to have these issues before the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit as soon as possible,” the company said in a statement. “After years of delay, this decision gives us the opportunity to have the appellate court address these critical issues on an accelerated basis. We look forward to the next stage of the process.”
But Google hailed the decision.
“This is an important victory not just for us, but also for the billions of people around the world who use the web to communicate and share experiences with each other,” Google vice president and general counsel Kent Walker blogged. “We’re excited about this decision and look forward to renewing our focus on supporting the incredible variety of ideas and expression that billions of people post and watch on YouTube every day around the world.”
Viacom sued Google for $1bn in 2007, arguing that YouTube was complicit in the posting of copyrighted TV shows by its users. The suit opened a window into the business practices of both companies, with allegations that Viacom executives themselves sometimes posted Viacom material to the video-sharing site. Google also presented documents showing Viacom attempted to buy YouTube in 2006.
Google ended up trumping other suitors that same year with a bid of $1.65bn. ®