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Court Rules in Favor of YouTube, Against Viacom, in Copyright Case

The Viacom v. YouTube case has been loud and ugly, and some might have expected a long, drawn-out legal decision. Not so–the court ruled somewhat surprisingly in favor of YouTube.

YouTube v. Viacom

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Viacom v. YouTube is an important case for copyright infringement in the digital age. The basics: Viacom says YouTube engaged in “rampant infringement” that is “deliberate and profitable.” Though YouTube is fairly diligent about removing infringing content, they do not monitor it, instead relying on content providers to report said content. Viacom is not pleased at having to hire a new team to essentially watch YouTube all day, and sued YouTube.

YouTube, for its part, says it is protected under the so-called “safe harbor” in the Digital Millennium Content Act (DMCA) that states publishers like YouTube are off limits from prosecution if they remove infringing content when asked. There are a few requirements to qualify for that safe harbor, namely that the publisher is “not aware of facts or circumstances from which infringing activity is
apparent.”

Viacom’s case against YouTube has been loud and ugly, with Viacom publicizing some dirty emails from YouTube’s deep past and YouTube (through its owner, Google) alleging that Viacom has uploaded some of its own content to make its case stronger. The case was expected to drag on, and perhaps lead to other lawsuits against YouTube from similarly unhappy companies like NBC/Universal.

Yet the court instead issued a quick ruling in favor of YouTube, saying the Internet video giant is indeed protected under the DMCA. The main point:

The tenor of the foregoing provisions is that the phrases “actual knowledge that the material or an activity” is infringing, and “facts or circumstances” indicating infringing activity, describe knowledge of specific and identifiable infringements of particular individual items. Mere knowledge of prevalence of such activity in general is not enough. That is consistent with an area of the law devoted to protection of distinctive individual works, not of libraries. 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.

Basically, the mere knowledge that copyright infringement could be happening is not enough to disqualify them from DMCA protection–YouTube would have to have knowledge of a specific video’s infringement, and still refuse or neglect to remove it. As dedicated YouTube viewers sometimes frustratedly know, that’s not the case.

The court also notes that rulings against peer-to-peer sharing sites like Limewire and Grokster are irrelevant, even quoting an email from Viacom’s own counsel (he called the differences between P2P and YouTube “staggering”). Read the entire ruling below.

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Viacom v YouTube Summary Judgment

Dan Nosowitz, the author of this post, can be followed on Twitter, corresponded with via email, and stalked in San Francisco (no link for that one–you’ll have to do the legwork yourself).

About the author

Dan Nosowitz is a freelance writer and editor who has written for Popular Science, The Awl, Gizmodo, Fast Company, BuzzFeed, and elsewhere. He holds an undergraduate degree from McGill University and currently lives in Brooklyn, because he has a beard and glasses and that's the law.

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