Google Wins Key Copyright Ruling

Google won a major victory late last month as a Federal Judge in New York granted Google’s motion for summary judgment in Viacom’s lawsuit with YouTube. Viacom, which sued Google in 2007, accused the video sharing site of copyright infringement after tens of thousands of copyrighted Viacom videos were uploaded to the site while Google had “actual knowledge…but failed to do anything about it.” Viacom had sought damages of at least $1 billion.

Judge Louis L. Stanton of United States District Court for the Southern District of New York granted Google’s motion for summary judgment, saying that the company was shielded by “safe harbor” provisions in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The provisions generally protect a Web site from liability for copyrighted material uploaded by its users as long as the operator of the site takes down the material when notified by its rightful owner that it was uploaded without permission. The decision reiterated that Internet companies are not legally required to develop and implement filtering systems such as YouTube’s Content ID System. Internet companies can expect legal protection as long as they take down content when copyright holders complain or when the company has specific knowledge of infringing activity. The judge wrote:

The present case shows that the D.M.C.A. notification regime works efficiently: when Viacom over a period of months accumulated some 100,000 videos and then sent a mass take-down notice on February 2, 2007, by the next business day YouTube had removed virtually all of them.

Kent Walker, Google’s Vice President and General Counsel, said in a blog post that “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.”

The decision was widely supported as it would protect not only YouTube but also Facebook and other websites that are largely built with content uploaded by their users. Mr. Walker said “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.”

Disappointed with the ruling, Michael Fricklas, Viacom’s Executive Vice President and General Counsel, vowed to appeal. Fricklas called the ruling “fundamentally flawed”. “It is, and should be, illegal for companies to build their businesses with creative material they have stolen from others,“ he said, adding that “legitimate websites shouldn’t have to compete with pirates.”