YouTube claimed victory in fighting off Viacom's $1 billion lawsuit against the video-sharing Website for allegedly infringing on the media giant's copyrights.
The New York district court hearing the case June 23 granted YouTube's motion for summary judgment. This essentially means U.S. District Judge Louis Stanton believes YouTube is protected by the safe harbor of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) against claims of copyright infringement.
While YouTube has won a victory, the war is not over. Viacom called Stanton's ruling " fundamentally flawed" and contrary to the DMCA, Congress and the Supreme Court. The company said it will try to have these issues heard by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit as soon as possible.
Viacom sued YouTube and Google for copyright infringement in March 2007 and the case wound through court amid a sea of confidential filings.
The media giant contended in its motion that Google acquired YouTube in 2006 because it was a "haven of infringement" and planned to profit from it. Google believes content placed on YouTube by millions of users is protected by the DMCA so long as it takes it down when companies request it.
Stanton agreed, arguing that while YouTube and Google were aware that users uploaded copyrighted material to the Website, it was not aware which clips were added with permission and which were not.
"General" awareness of copyright infringement, he argued, was not the same as "knowledge of specific and identifiable infringements of individual items."
This lent Google the advantage of plausible deniability, or at least plausible ignorance, in its defense.
"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," said Kent Walker, vice president and general counsel at Google.
Viacom's Executive Vice President, General Counsel and Secretary Michael Fricklas said in a statement that while Viacom is disappointed with the judge's ruling it confident the company will win its appeal.
"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.
Without this protection, investment in the development of art and entertainment would be discouraged, and the many artists and producers who devote their lives to creating it would be hurt. Copyright protection is also critical to the Web - because consumers love professional content and because legitimate Websites shouldn't have to compete with pirates."
Fricklas also reiterated what Viacom asserted in documents that were unsealed in March and April: that YouTube and Google stole hundreds of thousands of video clips from artists and content creators, including Viacom, building a business that was sold for billions of dollars (actually, Google acquired YouTube for $1.65 billion).
Viacom claimed YouTube was intentionally built on infringement, citing e-mails between YouTube Co-founders Chad Hurley, Steve Chen and Jawed Karim demonstrating that YouTube's founders expected to profit from that infringement.
"By their own admission, the site contained "truckloads" of infringing content and founder Steve Chen explained that YouTube needed to "steal" videos because those videos make "our traffic soar," Viacom said in a statement March 18.
Google provided evidence that Viacom hired at least 18 marketing agencies to upload its content to the site and deliberately "roughed up" the videos to make them look stolen or leaked. Some of these videos were actually copyrighted by Viacom itself.