Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Court Says Viacom vs. YouTube Copyright Fight Will Go Another Round

The long-running Viacom versus YouTube copyright fight will keep going a while longer: A federal court has overturned an earlier victory for Google and its giant video site, and has ordered the two sides to retry the case.

You can read the judgement, embedded at the bottom of this post. The short version is that an appeals court has ruled that a 2010 decision, which essentially gave YouTube a complete victory, may not hold up.

That 2010 decision ruled that YouTube and Google were protected by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The gist: That even if YouTube and Google knew users were uploading stuff that violated copyright, as long as they didn’t know about specific stuff, and took down clips when copyright owners complained, they’d be okay.

Not good enough, according to the appeals court: “we vacate the order granting summary judgment because a reasonable jury could find that YouTube had actual knowledge or awareness of specific infringing activity on its website material.”

Translation: Back to the drawing board, with a case that could have a big impact on the media and tech industries. The 2010 YouTube/Viacom decision was one of several rulings that gave tech companies significant leeway under the DMCA, and has put the onus on copyright holders to police the Web for violations. If this goes the other way, a lot of Web companies, big and small, may have a lot of problems.

Meanwhile, note that Viacom and Google have figured out ways to conduct business even while the suit slogs through the court system — earlier this week, YouTube announced a deal to rent films from Viacom’s Paramount film unit. I’ll plug in comment from Viacom and Google if they provide one.

Update: Here’s the word from a YouTube spokesperson: “The Second Circuit has upheld the long-standing interpretation of the DMCA and rejected Viacom’s reading of the law. All that is left of the Viacom lawsuit that began as a wholesale attack on YouTube is a dispute over a tiny percentage of videos long ago removed from YouTube. Nothing in this decision impacts the way YouTube is operating. YouTube will continue to be a vibrant forum for free expression around the world.”

And this from Viacom: “We are pleased with the decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals. The Court delivered a definitive, common sense message — intentionally ignoring theft is not protected by the law.”

viacom youtube appeal


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