Federal Court Awards YouTube Summary Judgment in Viacom Copyright Infringement Case

Yesterday, the federal court hearing the billion-dollar case brought by Viacom against YouTube and Google ruled in favor of Google and YouTube on a summary judgment motion, deciding that YouTube is protected against claims of copyright infringement by the safe harbor provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (the “DMCA”), since it promptly sought to comply with the DMCA by removing protected content when notified of it.

The federal court held that under the law, if service providers were required to try to determine what content is infringing, or if service providers were held liable because they know infringement is rampant in the industry, or that users routinely post infringing materials, it “would contravene the structure and operation of the DMCA.” Only Congress has the power to decide to alter or reallocate the burden of copyright protection from the rights holder (i.e., the copyright owner) to the service provider. In examining that question, the court stated that where such a huge volume of works are posted by others, the service provider “cannot by inspection determine whether the use has been licensed by the owner, or whether its posting” is a “fair use” of the material, or even whether its copyright owner or licensee objects to its posting. The DMCA is explicit: it shall not be construed to condition “safe harbor” protection on “a service provider monitoring its service or affirmatively seeking facts indicating infringing activity . . . .” Under the DMCA, if one has no notice of infringement and innocently publishes infringing content, until knowledge is shown – by “take down” notice or otherwise – a passive service provider platform would generally not be liable for intellectual property infringement.

It’s unlikely you have heard the end of this lawsuit. In a statement posted yesterday by Michael Fricklas, Viacom Executive Vice President, General Counsel & Secretary, Viacom noted that, “This case has always been about whether intentional theft of copyrighted works is permitted under existing law and we always knew that the critical underlying issue would need to be addressed by courts at the appellate levels. Today’s decision accelerates our opportunity to do so.”

You can read and download the court’s entire decision right here.