Viacom Seeking to Revive YouTube Suit

Viacom is seeking to revive its $1 billion copyright suit against YouTube and Google. A little over a year ago a district court agreed that YouTube was protected from infringement claims because the site moved to remove infringing material swiftly as soon as it was notified, using a “safe harbor” provision under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, and granted summary judgment. Viacom sees to overturn, arguing to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals that allowing it to remain “will lead to the vast exploitation of material on the Internet.”

Viacom contends that, at the time it was sold to Google for $1.65 billion in 2006, between 75 percent and 80 percent of the content on YouTube was copyrighted and hadn’t been licensed to the website. Some of that material belonged to Viacom which it feels significantly contributed to its sale price. Its lawsuit focuses on alleged unauthorized posting of Viacom content between 2005 and 2008.

Viacom wants an injunction put in place requiring YouTube to scan video clips for copyrighted material before they are posted. Google argues that there is no way for YouTube to determine what is infringing material without the copyright owner’s input, and it provides copyright owners an expedient way of halting infringement. Viacom argues that the lower court’s ruling would “radically transform” and harm, if not destroy the value of copyrighted works and “immunize from copyright infringement liability even avowedly piratical Internet businesses.” Google counters that putting such a burden on legitimate services would expose them to “crushing infringement claims.” Google argues that the DCMA offers a “sensible approach” because “copyright holders are the ones in a position to know what material they own, what they have licensed, and where they want their works to appear online.” It feels Viacom’s argument would force them to be aware of all possible copyrighted material. During the hearing, Google’s attorney noted “There’s no central registry of copyright to which you can refer.”

The battle between these companies has had some interesting moments: YouTube requested to take depositions of comedians Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert (who appear on Viacom’s Comedy Central), while Viacom at one point requested the disclosure of the computer code at the heart of Google’s search function. Viacom attorneys alleged YouTube knew about copyright violations, pointing to emails from a YouTube managers who asked employees to remove content belonging to a sports league he was about to meet because it could prove embarrassing. Google responded by pointing to the fact that Viacom uploaded numerous clips and then struggled to determine which of their clips was uploaded by employees and which had been posted by third parties without permission: “If they couldn’t tell what belonged to them, how could we?”

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  • christopher johnson

    While I do have a little sympathy for Viacom, I don’t have that much sympathy. And I don’t blame Google or Youtube for the infringement.