While a judge weighs arguments from Viacom and YouTube in one of the most closely watched copyright cases in the Web's young history, a legal expert said YouTube might have the advantage of transforming into a reputable business.
Viacom sued video-sharing site YouTube and Google for copyright infringement in March 2007, with the case winding its way through court amid a sea of confidential filings. Many of those filings became public March 18 in motions for summary judgment from the parties.
Viacom contended in its motion that Google acquired YouTube in 2006 because it was a "haven of infringement" and planned to profit from it. Google in its own motion alleged that after filing the suit Viacom secretly uploaded video content to YouTube, "even while publicly complaining about its presence there."
While industry watchers feel YouTube and Viacom each scored points, YouTube's evolution into a recognizable brand may give it the upper-hand, said Eric Goldman, associate professor at Santa Clara University School of Law and director of the High Tech Law Institute.
"The longer this case goes the more benefit YouTube gets," Goldman told eWEEK. "In 2006, a judge might not have heard of YouTube, let alone used it. By 2010, a lot of judges know YouTube before it even gets into their court room. I'm guessing most judges have positive thoughts about YouTube."
Goldman said that there has been a fair number of court cases where judges have used YouTube videos as a legal citation. Over time, more judges are becoming familiar with YouTube and are thinking positive things about it. That works to YouTube's benefit.
More broadly, Goldman said Google wins most lawsuits against it because it's Google, a well-known search engine used by millions of people. "Everyone knows Google and judges are reluctant to take down Google," he said.
This sentiment doesn't bode well for Viacom, the owner of such television staples as MTV Networks and Comedy Central. When the giant sued YouTube, it alleged that YouTube and owner Google habitually allowed the uploading of thousands of copyrighted video clips.
Google argued that video content posted to YouTube by consumers was protected under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, a 1998 law that protects Internet companies from liability if they remove content at the request of the copyright holder. Google's position was that it would take down content if copyright holders' asked it to.
Threes year later, the unsealed documents revealed unseemly behavior and attitudes from plaintiff and defendant.