U.S. District Court Rules that Google Inc.’s YouTube Video Sharing Website did not Run Afoul of Trademark-Infringement on Rights Owned by Movie and Television Producer Viacom Inc.

June 30th, 2010

Google acquired YouTube back in 2006 for a whopping $1.65 billion. This investment has been tested in a lawsuit brought against Google and YouTube by the TV and movie copyright owner Viacom. However, Google was granted some breathing room last Wednesday when the U.S. District Judge Louis Stanton for the Southern District of New York said YouTube wasn’t liable for infringement under the alleged violations stemming from the Copyright Act of 1976.

trademark infringementBack in March both Google and Viacom had asked the court for summary judgment rulings in their favor. Viacom argued that YouTube was financially benefitted by allowing users to post and share programs including “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart” and “South Park” on its website without authorization from Viacom (owner of these copyrighted materials).

In Viacom’s complaint, they clearly demonstrated to the court YouTube’s role in aiding and facilitating the direct infringement of Viacom’s copyrighted online content;

“The YouTube conduct that forms the basis of this Complaint is not simply providing storage space, conduits, or other facilities to users who create their own websites with infringing materials. To the contrary, YouTube itself commits the infringing duplication, distribution, public performance, and public display of Plaintiffs’ copyrighted works, and that infringement occurs on YouTube’s own website, which is operated and controlled by Defendants, not users.”

Despite accepting that this is true, Judge Stanton ruled that sensitive to the DMCA, “the provider must know of the particular case before he can control it,” and “the provider need not monitor or seek out facts indicating such activity.”

Stanton’s ruling gave deference to Google and YouTube’s argument that it was protected by the safe-harbor provision of the federal Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). The DMCA provides protection to online service providers; among other things it adds limits the terms of injunctions and bars copyright-damage awards. However, to qualify for protection under the federal DMCA, the service provider must be one that satisfies this inclusive list;

(1) performs a qualified storage or search function for internet users;
(2) lacks actual or imputed knowledge of the infringing activity;
(3) receives no financial benefit directly from such activity in a case where he has the right and ability to control it;
(4) acts promptly to remove or disable access to the material when his designated agent is notified that it is infringing;
(5) adopts, reasonably implements and publicizes a policy of terminating repeat infringers; and
(6) accommodates and does not interfere with standard technical measures used by copyright owners to identify or protect copyrighted works.

Sensitive to the federal DMCA, Stanton iterated that, “infringing content, once detected, must be taken down.” Apparently Google can continue utilizing YouTube to host copyright infringing content so long as it continues its time honored tradition of allowing users to post infringing material and then, once notified, pulling down the infringing material to remain in compliance with the guidelines of the DMCA.

Plaintiff Viacom said in an e-mailed statement that it plans to appeal the ruling;

“We believe that this ruling by the lower court is fundamentally flawed and contrary to the language of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, the intent of Congress, and the views of the Supreme Court as expressed in its most recent decisions.”

On the other hand, Defendant Google’s V.P. and general counsel, Kent Walker, commented in a Web log posting that;

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

The N.Y.S.D. Court decision and more on this story can be found here;

VIACOM INTERNATIONAL INC., v. YOUTUBE INC., YOUTUBE LLC, and GOOGLE INC.,

Google Inc.’s YouTube video-sharing website didn’t infringe copyrights owned by movie and television producer Viacom Inc., a judge ruled