Google scores victory against Viacom in US$1bn video lawsuit

24 Jun 2010

A federal judge in New York yesterday threw out Viacom’s US$1bn copyright infringement case against Google’s YouTube. The result could have implications for other sites like Facebook whose users share video content all the time.

The judge, Louis L Stanton of the Southern District of New York, ruled that Google was shielded from Viacom’s copyright claims by “safe harbor” provisioins of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act which protect a website from liability as long as the website removes the material when requested by its rightful owner.

In recent weeks during the court battle this premise was put to the test with Google’s counsels alleging Viacom deliberately left its material on YouTube as part of a bid to boost ratings for its shows.

Viacom launched its legal campaign against YouTube in 2007 accusing YouTube of copyright infringement after thousands of Viacom videos were uploaded onto the site and alleged YouTube profited from this.

Judge Stanton said that while Google knew copyright material had bee uploaded on YouTube, it did not know which clips had been uploaded with permission and which did not have permission.

Google’s general counsel Kent Walker hailed the decision as a victory not only for YouTube but for other sites that host user-generated content.

“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,” Walker said.

In connection with the summary judgment yesterday, Viacom said it plans to fight the judgement and made the following 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 US 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,” Viacom said.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years