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Case to Watch: Viacom Sues Google YouTube

Lawsuit Could Impact Digital Millennium Copyright Act


On Tuesday, March 13th, Viacom announced a lawsuit against Google for one billion dollars in damages over alleged copyright infringement on Google's YouTube. Media giant Viacom owns several networks, including MTV, Spike, Comedy Central, and Nickelodeon. Google and Viacom had recently been in negotiations to stream Viacom owned content on YouTube.


On Jue 23, 2010, the judge dismissed the lawsuit and found that YouTube was indeed protected by the safe harbor specified in the Digital Mellinium Copyright Act.


The Issues

YouTube is a video hosting service that lets users submit their own content. Although YouTube's terms of service clearly state that users are forbidden from uploading copyrighted material without permission of the copyright holder. Nonetheless, this rule was ignored by many users.

Viacom alleges:

YouTube deliberately built up a library of infringing works to draw traffic to the YouTube site, enabling it to gain a commanding market share, earn significant revenues and increase its enterprise value.
(Source New York Times - WhoseTube? Viacom Sues Google Over Video Clips )

Google General Counsel Kent Walker responded:

YouTube has become even more popular since we took down Viacom's material. We think that's a testament to the draw of the user-generated content on YouTube. We've been very successful forging thousands of successful partnerships with content owners -- like Warner Music, Sony/BMG, Universal Music, BBC, and the NBA -- interested in finding new audiences for their programming. These partnerships offer the YouTube community access to some of the best content in the world, ranging from entertainment and sports to politics and news. And we're only getting started.


The Digital Millennium Copyright Act

The part of this case that has the most potential for legal fallout is the "safe harbor" clause of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, or DMCA. The safe harbor clause may provide some protection for companies with services that host content without review, so long as infringing content is promptly removed.

Google maintains that they have not violated copyright law. "We are confident that YouTube has respected the legal rights of copyright holders and believe the courts will agree." (Source ITWire - Google responds to Viacom’s $1b YouTube lawsuit)

The problem is that large companies, such as Viacom, face a huge burden to manually search for infringing content and notify Google. As soon as one video is removed, another user may be uploading a copy of the same video.


Filtering Software

The social networking site, MySpace started using filtering software in February 2007 to analyze music files uploaded to the site and prevent users from copyright infringement.

Google's delay in implementing a similar system has some critics like Viacom claiming that Google may be intentionally hesitating. Viacom claims that Google should be taking the steps to proactively remove content rather than waiting for complaints:


In fact, YouTube’s strategy has been to avoid taking proactive steps to curtail the infringement on its site, thus generating significant traffic and revenues for itself while shifting the entire burden – and high cost – of monitoring YouTube onto the victims of its infringement.

Google clarified their development status with video filtering software and said that the tool required a lot of fine-tuning before it could be used to drive automated policy decisions.

According to an Associated Press article, Google lawyer, Philip Beck told a U.S. District Judge that Google hoped to have a system place as early as September.

Google's system, Claim Your Content, will make it faster for copyright holders to have content removed. However, it does not look like it will prevent infringing material from being uploaded in the first place.

The Impact

This lawsuit may just be a negotiating tactic, and Viacom and Google may settle out of court with a deal. However, if the suit goes to court, it could impact the way many Web 2.0 companies conduct business in the future.


Stop the Falsiness

In an ironic twist, on March 22, The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), Brave New Films, and Moveon.org announced that they were suing Viacom for requesting the removal of a video they did not feel was infringing on Viacom's copyright. Learn more about the Moveon lawsuit against Viacom

Google Seeks Dismissal

Google formally responded to Viacom's lawsuit on Monday, April 30th, by asking for dismissal. Google maintains their claim that they've complied with the DMCA and that Safe Harbor provisions should apply in this case.

User Data Disclosure

In July 2008, Google was ordered to disclose user data as part of the discovery proceedings for the lawsuit. Viacom and Google both claim that personally identifying information was removed from the data before the transfer.

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