Google defeats Viacom in landmark copyright case

Judge grants summary judgment in favor of YouTube, the company's video site, deciding that it is protected by the DMCA safe-harbor provision against copyright infringement claims.

Greg Sandoval Former Staff writer
Greg Sandoval covers media and digital entertainment for CNET News. Based in New York, Sandoval is a former reporter for The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times. E-mail Greg, or follow him on Twitter at @sandoCNET.
Greg Sandoval
3 min read
Google CEO Eric Schmidt's side prevailed over Philippe Dauman's Viacom in this important copyright case.

U.S. District Judge Louis Stanton, overseeing the longtime copyright fight between Viacom and Google over YouTube, on Wednesday granted summary judgment for the search company.

"The court has decided that YouTube is protected by the safe harbor of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) against claims of copyright infringement," Google said on its site.

"The decision follows established judicial consensus," Google continued, "that online services like YouTube are protected when they work cooperatively with copyright holders to help them manage their rights online."

Viacom, parent company of Paramount Pictures and MTV, indicated that it plans to continue to fight.

"We believe that this ruling by the lower court is fundamentally flawed and contrary to the language of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA)," Viacom said in a statement. "We intend to seek to have these issues before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit as soon as possible."

Viacom-Google summary judgement opinion

While the case could continue to drag on in the appeals process, the summary judgment handed down in the Southern District of New York is a major victory for Google as well as for those who share content online and the technology sector at large.

Legal scholars predicted the outcome of this landmark suit would determine who profited the most from content: the people who pay for its creation, or the people who help disseminate it over the Web.

"What this court seems to be saying is that it is not a game of perfect. There is some burden on rights holders to do the policing [for copyright infringing works]. It can't all fall on the shoulders of third party host services."
--Denise Howell, Silicon Valley lawyer

Viacom filed a $1 billion lawsuit against Google in March 2007 and accused the company of encouraging its users to commit copyright infringement. Before YouTube and Google implemented a filtering system and other content protections, YouTube users commonly uploaded unauthorized clips of TV shows and movies.

Google held that the DMCA's safe harbor provision protected it and other Internet service providers from being held responsible for copyright infringements committed by users. The judge agreed.

Viacom alleged that infringing materials were so plentiful, it was ludicrous to suggest that YouTube didn't know they existed on the site. Stanton noted that YouTube removed copyright-infringing clips once notified by an owner and that was all that was required to qualify for DMCA protection.

"If a service provider knows of specific instances of infringement, the provider must promptly remove the infringing material," Stanton wrote. "If not, the burden is on the owner to identify the infringement. General knowledge that infringement is 'ubiquitous' does not impose a duty on the service provider to monitor or search its service for infringements."

This seems to indicate that YouTube and Google may not be required to employ filtering technologies. But Denise Howell, a Silicon Valley-based attorney, said it's unlikely Google will remove those or that unauthorized clips will once again be plentiful on the site.

"What this court seems to be saying is that it is not a game of perfect," Howell said. "There is some burden on rights holders to do the policing [for copyright infringing works]. It can't all fall on the shoulders of third-party host services."

"[The court's decision] is wrong and will be overturned."
--Tom Sydnor, digital property expert

Tom Sydnor, a senior fellow who heads up studies digital property issues at the Progress & Freedom Foundation, said he expects Stanton's decision to be reversed. "It is wrong and will be overturned," said Sydnor, who compared Stanton's decision to those made by a district court and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in the MGM v. Grokster case.

"Those decisions were unanimously reversed by the U.S Supreme Court," Stanton said. "The same results will follow here."