Google, Viacom settle outmoded YouTube copyright suit

After seven years of back-and-forth legal jabs, YouTube's owner and the parent of MTV and Comedy Central settle a fight that has become an anachronism.

Joan E. Solsman Former Senior Reporter
Joan E. Solsman was CNET's senior media reporter, covering the intersection of entertainment and technology. She's reported from locations spanning from Disneyland to Serbian refugee camps, and she previously wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal. She bikes to get almost everywhere and has been doored only once.
Expertise Streaming video, film, television and music; virtual, augmented and mixed reality; deep fakes and synthetic media; content moderation and misinformation online Credentials
  • Three Folio Eddie award wins: 2018 science & technology writing (Cartoon bunnies are hacking your brain), 2021 analysis (Deepfakes' election threat isn't what you'd think) and 2022 culture article (Apple's CODA Takes You Into an Inner World of Sign)
Joan E. Solsman
2 min read


Google and Viacom have settled their seven-year copyright lawsuit, a nearly forgotten fight in which the central conflict has largely become an anachronism.

Viacom, the parent company of such television networks as MTV, Comedy Central, and Nickelodeon, sued Google shortly after the search giant's acquisition of YouTube. It claimed the sharing platform for user-generated videos hosted thousands of unauthorized clips.

Google and Viacom putting the conflict to rest reflects how much the attitude toward online video has changed for traditional content companies, from one of protective wariness to one of essential opportunity. It also reflects how YouTube, over the course of many years, has improved its control over its platform, enabling it to work more beneficially with those traditional content creators.

In a brief joint statement Tuesday, Google and Viacom said they resolved the suit, without disclosing any terms of the settlement.

"This settlement reflects the growing collaborative dialogue between our two companies on important opportunities, and we look forward to working more closely together," the companies said in the statement.

The suit emerged from a period of time when the Internet was as much threat as opportunity to traditional media companies like Viacom, which had seen the virulence of online piracy with music over the preceding decade and noted the damage it could inflict on an industry unaccustomed to rapid change.

Though Google negotiated licensing deals with many entertainment companies like Warner Music Group, CBS, and the BBC, Viacom claimed that after months of negotiations, YouTube was unwilling to reach a fair agreement for Viacom content and failing to put in place promised filtering tools. (Disclosure: CNET is owned by CBS, though not at the time of this lawsuit.)

The claim kicked off years of back-and-forth legal battles.

Viacom withdrew much of its video content off YouTube, choosing instead to focus on video on its own Web sites. Viacom channels like MTV and Comedy Central have since returned to the hosting site, but their absence fostered an environment that helped upstarts like music-video joint venture Vevo to become one of the most-watched corners of YouTube.

Since the time the Viacom and Google's conflict arose, traditional media companies have come to use and value YouTube as a marketing platform, and YouTube's control over unauthorized content has sharpened, as has its ability to monetize clips with advertisements that more consistently put a slice of that revenue in the hands of the copyright holder.

But YouTube's open platform and gigantic scale -- 6 billion hours of video are watched each month -- continues to spark major conflict and raise other questions about copyright and free speech.

In a ruling with significant copyright implications, a US appeals court last month said Google must remove anti-Islamic film "Innocence of Muslims," which incited sparked protests by outraged Muslims around the world. The court agreed with an actress' claim of holding some independent copyright on the film because of her appearance in it and said taking it down doesn't constitute a prior restraint on speech.