Viacom’s $1 billion copyright infringement suit dismissed in the US

On 23 June 2010, the US District Court for the Southern District of New York granted Google’s motion for summary judgment in Viacom’s $1 billion copyright infringement lawsuit against Google’s video sharing site YouTube.

Viacom commenced proceedings against Google in March 2007 alleging widespread and wilful infringement of Viacom’s movies, TV shows and other content which have been uploaded onto YouTube by third-party users.  Viacom also alleged that once Google was notified, it did not do enough to remove the infringing content or prevent future infringements.  In response, Google stated that  it had complied with the safe harbour requirements under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) by removing infringing material upon owners’ requests.  In support of its case, Google noted that when Viacom sent a notice to YouTube about 100,000 infringing videos, YouTube had removed almost all of them the next day.

Section 512(c)(1) of the DMCA states that a service provider is not liable for infringement of copyright by reason of storage at the direction of a user of material on a system if the provider:

(A)(i) – does not have actual knowledge that the material or activity using the material on the system or network is infringing; or
(ii) – is not aware of facts or circumstances from which infringing activity is apparent.

The central issue in this case was whether s 512(c)(1) protected companies that took actions in respect of specific and identifiable infringements of individual items, but did not take steps to reduce infringements when they are generally aware of infringements occurring.

Judge Louis Stanton held that if a service provider has knowledge of specific and identifiable infringements of particular individual items, then they would not fall under the protection of the safe harbour provisions above.  Mere knowledge of prevalence of such activity in general is not enough.  He said “to let knowledge of a generalised practice of infringement in the industry, or of a proclivity of users to post infringing materials, impose responsibility on service providers to discover which of their users’ postings infringe a copyright would contravene the structure and operation of the DMCA.”

Viacom are set to appeal the summary judgment. 

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