Google’s YouTube Didn’t Infringe Viacom Copyrights, Judge Says

Google’s YouTube Didn’t Infringe Viacom
Eric Schmidt, chairman and chief executive officer of Google Inc. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Google Inc.’s YouTube didn’t violate Viacom Inc. copyrights when content including clips from its MTV and Comedy Central cable television channels were posted on the video-sharing website, a judge ruled.

U.S. District Judge Louis Stanton in New York yesterday said YouTube wasn’t liable for infringement. Viacom, controlled by Sumner Redstone, had sought at least $1 billion in damages, according to a revised complaint filed in April 2008.

Stanton agreed with YouTube that it was protected by the safe-harbor provision of the federal Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which says a service provider isn’t liable for infringement if it removes material from its site when notified by the copyright owner.

“The provider must know of the particular case before he can control it,” Stanton said in the ruling. “The provider need not monitor or seek out facts indicating such activity.”

More than 24 hours worth of video is uploaded to the YouTube site every minute, the judge said. YouTube had a policy of removing infringing content from its site and banning users after three such offenses, according to the ruling.

Both companies asked Stanton in March to decide the case in their favor without a trial. Viacom said YouTube benefited financially by allowing users to post and share programs including “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart” and “South Park” on its website without authorization.

Appeal Planned

Viacom, based in New York, said in an e-mailed statement that it plans to appeal yesterday’s ruling.

“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,” Viacom said in the statement.

“This is a win for YouTube and for Google and for the Internet,” Kent Walker, vice president and general counsel for Google, said in a phone interview. “The decision empowers a new generation of creators and artists who are just starting to share their work.”

The decision followed established judicial consensus that online services such as YouTube are protected from infringements claims when they work with copyright holders to manage their rights online, Walker said in an Internet blog posting.

Google, based in Mountain View, California, acquired YouTube for $1.65 billion in 2006.

Premier League

Viacom’s lawsuit was initially filed in 2007. Stanton’s decision also disposes of a parallel case brought by England’s Football Association Premier League Ltd. later that year, accusing YouTube of infringing its copyrighted British soccer league matches.

An attorney for the league, Max Berger of the New York law firm of Bernstein Litowitz Berger & Grossmann LLP, didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment after regular business hours yesterday.

Stanton, last year, dismissed the league’s demand for punitive damages, ruling the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976 didn’t allow for them. He also threw out the association’s claim for damages arising from the alleged infringement of foreign works not registered in the U.S.

The case is Viacom International Inc. v. Youtube Inc., 07-cv-02103, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan). The soccer case is The Football Association Premier League Ltd. v. Youtube Inc., 07-cv-03582.

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