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Google’s YouTube wins copyright battle with Viacom

The first chapter in a battle between two very different media giants – YouTube and Viacom – has come to a close after a judge ruled that YouTube had acted within the law when users posted copyrighted material to the site.


A US judge threw out a copyright lawsuit filed against YouTube by US entertainment giant Viacom on Wednesday, giving Google, which owns the video site, a major legal victory in a closely watched case.

US District Court Judge Louis Stanton said that YouTube was protected against Viacom's claims of "massive copyright infringement" by provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

The 1998 law gives Internet firms protection from copyright violations by their users. In the case of YouTube, users upload thousands of videos each day.

The law says that Web firms cannot be held responsible for the actions of their users, but must react quickly when copyright infringements are pointed out.

Viacom sued Google and YouTube for a billion dollars in March 2007, arguing that they condoned pirated video clips at the website to boost its popularity.

Viacom's suit charged that YouTube was a willing accomplice to "massive copyright infringement" and sought more than one billion dollars in damages.

The court, however, ruled that Google’s actions, by promptly removing copyrighted material from the site when requested by parties such as Viacom, were in line with the act.

Since it was sold to Google in 2006, YouTube has developed a system that helps flag copyright violations when videos are posted. Viacom argues that those copyright detection tools prove YouTube could have done more, beforehand, to keep illegal content off its site.

‘Video pirates’

E-mails obtained as part of the evidence submitted in the case depicted YouTube founders Chad Hurley, Steven Chen and Jawed Karim as video pirates more interested in getting rich quick than obeying federal law.

But Judge Stanton seemed more interested in YouTube's behaviour than the mindset of its founders.

In dismissing the lawsuit before a trial, Stanton noted that Viacom had spent several months accumulating about 100,000 videos violating its copyright and then sent a mass takedown notice on Feb. 2, 2007.

By the next business day, Stanton said, YouTube had removed virtually all of them.

The judge said there was no disputing the fact that ``when YouTube was given the (takedown) notices, it removed the material.''

Working ‘cooperatively’ with copyright holders

"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," Google general counsel Kent Walker said in a blog post.

He added: “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.”

Viacom general counsel Michael Fricklas said the company was disappointed and would appeal the ruling.

He said: "Copyright protection is essential to the survival of creative industries. It is and should be illegal for companies to build their businesses with creative material they have stolen from others.

"This case has always been about whether intentional theft of copyrighted works is permitted under existing law and we always knew that the critical underlying issue would need to be addressed by courts at the appellate levels," he said.

"Today's decision accelerates our opportunity to do so."

The legal battle over copyright and the Internet is unlikely to end any time soon.


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