Court Dismisses Viacom's $1 Billion Copyright Claims Against YouTube

Court Dismisses Viacom's $1 Billion Copyright Claims Against YouTube

In June 2010, the court for the Southern Dist. of NY ruled in favor of YouTube by dismissing Viacom's claims for copyright infringement. The court held that general knowledge was not enough to bar YouTube from protection under the DMCA safe harbor provision. It found the burden of protecting copyrighted material remains with the copyright owner, regardless of whether the online service provider is aware of infringement on its hosted websites. In this Analysis, Gail R. Manuguid, Janet Kim Lin and Stephen D. Fisher discuss Viacom Int'l v. Youtube, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 62829 (S.D.N.Y. June 23, 2010) [enhanced version available to lexis.com subscribers]. They write:

1. The DMCA's "Safe Harbor"

     At the heart of this case is the scope of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act's ("DMCA") "safe harbor" provision, which protects OSPs, like YouTube, from copyright liability if they promptly remove from their websites unauthorized work following formal written request of a copyright owner.

2. General Knowledge of Infringement is Insufficient

     To qualify for the safe harbor, an OSP must "act expeditiously" to remove infringing content if it has "actual" knowledge of infringing activity or is aware of facts and circumstances from which infringing activity is "apparent." According to Viacom, YouTube was aware of the widespread infringement of Viacom's works on YouTube and failed to take affirmative steps to remove such material. Indeed, the court acknowledged that based on the parties' briefs, a jury could find that YouTube was not only generally aware that copyright-infringing materials were uploaded, but that it welcomed such content because it was attractive to users. In addition, these users enhanced YouTube's income from advertisers, resulting in a financial benefit attributable to the infringement.

3. Viacom Failed to Show That YouTube Had "Actual" Knowledge of Infringement

     The court ruled that despite the finding that YouTube was generally aware of the infringing activity, YouTube was entitled to protection under the safe harbor provision. In order to lose the protection of the safe harbor, the defendant must be aware of "specific and identifiable infringements of particular individual items" and fail to act expeditiously to remove them upon notice. Mere knowledge of "ubiquitous" infringement is not enough to "impose a duty on the service provider to monitor or search its services for infringements."

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