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YouTube Wins Landmark Copyright Case

By Barry Skidelsky, Esq.

In a 30 page decision dated June 23, 2010 (Viacom et al v. You Tube et al, CV Civ. 2013), Judge Louis Stanton of the United States District Court in the Southern District of New York granted summary judgment sought by defendant Google-owed YouTube, dismissing before trial copyright infringement claims brought by plaintiff Viacom seeking more than $1 billion in damages in connection with video clips culled from the media giant’s cable channels such as Comedy Central and MTV.

The opinion and order focused on whether the defendants were entitled to so-called “safe harbor” protections found at 17 U.S.C. § 512(c) in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which 12 year-old statute provides protection against copyright infringement claims brought against various types of on-line providers who qualify.

To qualify for this protection, the DMCA in part requires that service providers designate an agent to receive statutorily defined notices of alleged copyright infringement, as well as establish and follow certain notice and take-down policies. After a lengthy review of the DMCA’s legislative history, the court found that the safe-harbor did apply here.

A key issue involved whether the defendants had either actual knowledge or a form of constructive knowledge of copyright infringing activity or material, as specified in the statute. The court interpreted this to require “... knowledge of specific and identifiable infringements of particular individual items. Mere knowledge of prevalence of such activity or material is not enough.” The court went on to find that YouTube lacked the requisite specific knowledge that would disallow the safe harbor.

Reportedly, about 24 hours of new video is uploaded by users to YouTube every minute, which the court found YouTube had no obligation to affirmatively monitor or police for possible copyright infringement. That burden more properly lies with copyright holders. The court also noted that Viacom had spent several months compiling a list of 100,000 videos that it attached to the single takedown notice it sent YouTube in February of 2007; and, that by the next business day, YouTube had removed virtually all of them.

To some, the plaintiff’s case is seen as one of sour grapes, given that Viacom tried to buy YouTube but was out-bid by Google -- which successfully purchased the enormously popular video web-site in 2006 for $1.76 billion, likely motivated in part by the DMCA’s safe harbor provisions. To others, this case is seen as a victory for creative expression and maintenance of the internet as both an outlet for expression and a participatory medium.

Barry Skidelsky co-chairs EASL’s TV & Radio Committee. A former broadcaster and musician, Barry previously served as General Counsel to an Internet Service Provider where his work in part involved the DMCA safe-harbor issues raised in this case. Now in private practice, Barry offers a broad range of legal and business services to those involved directly and indirectly with traditional and new media, telecommunications, technology and entertainment. Contact: bskidelskly@mindspring.com or 212-832-4800.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on June 28, 2010 4:41 PM.

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