Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Google Wins YouTube Copyright Suit; Viacom Promises Appeal

Google has won its long-running case against Viacom, which accused the search giant’s YouTube of massive copyright infringement and asked for $1 billion in damages. Viacom promises to appeal the federal court ruling.

You can read all of U.S. District Court Judge Louis Stanton’s decision at the bottom of the post, where I’ve embedded the ruling. Short version: Stanton buys Google’s longstanding argument–that the Digital Millennium Copyright Act protects YouTube from Viacom’s claims. And he seems to agree with Google (GOOG) on almost every point. There’s very little in his ruling that Viacom (VIA) will be happy about.

Even though YouTube and Google executives knew the site had plenty of clips that violated copyright, “mere knowledge of prevalence of such activity in general is not enough” to support Viacom’s claims, Stanton wrote in a 35-page decision.

That’s because the DMCA, signed into law early-on in the first Web boom in 1998, grants “safe harbor” to service providers that don’t know about specific copyright violations and that fix copyright violations when they learn about them. Since YouTube relies on users to upload clips to the service and takes down clips if copyright holders complain, it’s in the clear, Stanton says.

If the ruling holds up, it’s a big blow to traditional copyright laws. Or spun another way, it’s a huge victory for technology companies using the DMCA as a defense.

Google’s statement:

Today, the court granted our motion for summary judgment in Viacom’s lawsuit with YouTube. This means that the court has decided that YouTube is protected by the safe harbor of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) against claims of copyright infringement. The decision follows established judicial consensus that online services like YouTube are protected when they work cooperatively with copyright holders to help them manage their rights online.

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. 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’s statement:

We believe that this ruling by the lower court is fundamentally flawed and contrary to the language of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, the intent of Congress, and the views of the Supreme Court as expressed in its most recent decisions. We intend to seek to have these issues before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit as soon as possible. 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.

So what about all of those interesting and entertaining documents both sides filed in the three-year suit and released to the public earlier this year? As I argued earlier, the bulk of them weren’t really relevant at all, and Stanton spends almost no time discussing them.

One worthwhile exception: He does use one email from Viacom attorney Michael Fricklas to help bat away the network’s complaint that YouTube was the equivalent of Grokster, the file-sharing network beaten down in a 2005 Supreme Court decision.

“The difference between YouTube’s behavior and Grokster’s staggering,” Fricklas wrote in a 2006 email. And Stanton agrees.


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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald