Home At it Again: Viacom and Google Back in Court Over YouTube Copyright Issues

At it Again: Viacom and Google Back in Court Over YouTube Copyright Issues

Sixteen months after a federal judge threw out Viacom’s $1 billion copyright lawsuit against Google, the two companies are back in court. Specifically, Viacom is asking an appeals court to revisit its case against YouTube, which they say is guilty of a whole lot of deliberate copyright infringement.

The original case was thrown out last year when a U.S. District Court judge ruled that YouTube was protected by the “safe harbor” provision of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA), which essentially argues that site owners are immune from the legal implications of what the site’s users do, such as uploading copyrighted material.

That YouTube has hosted copyrighted material is not in dispute here. What’s up for debate is whether Google knew about it and whether it is at fault for only acting against copyright infringers when issues were reported. Viacom’s lawyers are hoping to convince the three-judge panel to open up an appeal of the case so they can make the argument that Google and YouTube were aware of, and thus complicit in, the infringements.

Google’s Anti-Piracy Measures

Google is well aware of the copyright issues raised by sites like YouTube and has gone to great measures to try and alleviate the problem, in the hopes of not only avoiding $1 billion lawsuits, but also partnering up with traditional media companies in the future.

Last month, Google touted a series of accomplishments it’s made in the battle against digital piracy. The company says it responds to all DMCA content take-down requests within 24 hours, often much earlier than that. Google Chairman Eric Schmidt told an audience of TV executives in Scotland that the average take-down request is fulfilled within four hours.

They’ve also developed a set of tools to help copyright owners more easily make claims of infringement. The company’s Content ID technology is used to automatically check audio and video clips against a large database of copyrighted material to determine if it’s in violation of the law. They’ve even blocked certain piracy-related terms from showing up as auto-suggestions in their search query box.

So What’s the Big Deal?

Despite Google’s recent efforts to assuage copyright concerns, Viacom is arguing that from 2005 to 2008, Google deliberately allowed copyright-infringing material – 63,000 video clips in particular – to be uploaded to YouTube and sit there until complaints were made. Google says there isn’t a single copyright-infringing clip that wasn’t taken down upon request. The judge that heard the original case agreed.

Obviously, Viacom’s legal team doesn’t think the first judgement was legally sound and wants it to be overturned. Even though YouTube isn’t known to be routinely hosting any pirated, Viacom-owned clips these days, the company is hoping to establish a new legal precedent, which would serve as a victory for traditional media companies and copyright owners, who often view the Web and companies like Google as a threat to the way copyright law and intellectual property have worked historically.

The panel of judges haven’t decided whether or not to hear the appeal yet. If they do, Viacom will have its work cut out for it as it tries to convince the court to counteract the prevailing legal precedent over DCMA and safe harbor.

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