Show's Over: YouTube, Google Prevail in Copyright Suit

By Tanya Roth, Esq. on June 25, 2010 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

It's all over but the shouting. That and the video of the victory dance, posted on YouTube. In a opinion and order handed down June 24, a federal judge ruled against Viacom and in favor of Google and YouTube in a sharply contested copyright infringement suit. The judge found that under the "Safe Harbor" provision of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, YouTube is not responsible for policing each piece of visitor posted content before it goes up.

In 2007, Viacom sued YouTube, and its deep pocketed owner Google, for copyright infringement over the practice of visitors posting video of such copyrighted Viacom content as The Daily Show with John Stewart or its upstart little brother, The Colbert Report. According to Reuters, Viacom claimed that YouTube knew that illegal copies of copyrighted videos were posted constantly, but they did nothing to stop it.  Put another way, USA Today reports the Viacom argued the whole business model of YouTube was predicated on the pirating of copyrighted material. The only reason people go to YouTube, they argued was to see popular entertainment for free.

Reuters reports that in his order for summary judgment against Viacom, U.S. District Court Judge Louis Stanton disagreed. YouTube is not liable under the Copyright Act for having a "general awareness" that some videos might illegally be posted. Further, the judge confrimed that the Safe Harbor provision of the Act applied to YouTube. Judge Stanton wrote it would "contravene the structure and operation" of the law to "impose responsibility" on service providers, such as YouTube, to discover which postings infringe copyrights. 

There is a viable option in place, noted the judge: the take down notice. For example, Judge Stanton noted on Feb. 2, 2007, Viacom identified 100,000 videos that it said violated its copyrights. By the next day, "YouTube had removed virtually all of them," the judge said.

This result is not satisfactory to Viacom, who will appeal. "These issues are really important for content creators to protect their intellectual property against the usage by online aggregators," Laura Martin, an analyst for Needham & Co, told Reuters.

In a final irony, Reuters writes that after the suit commenced, Google court papers claimed that even Viacom managers had uploaded videos onto YouTube. Could that be the kid-approved,"'everybody's doing it," defense? 

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