District Court rules YouTube did not infringe on Viacom's copyrights, case to be appealed

Copyrighted content uploaded to YouTube has been a problem ever since the site launched in 2005. In fact, "Me at the zoo," the first video ever uploaded to YouTube, is dated April 23, 2005. The first time Viacom took legal action against YouTube was exactly one month later, on May 24, 2005, when it issued a subpeona for information about a user who uploaded copyrighted material to the site.

In late 2006, YouTube and Viacom reached a content syndication agreement, but after Google completed its $1.65 billion acquisition of YouTube, the company retracted its agreement, pulled all of its content from the site, and sued Google for over 63,000 counts of copyright infringement.

After three years of litigation and accusations that one was "built on lawsuits" while the other was "built on infringement," federal judge Louis Stanton handed down a major victory to Google yesterday. The judge upheld Google's use of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act's "safe harbor" provision that protects the site from claims of copyright infringement.

"This is an important victory not just for us, but also for the billions of people around the world who use the web to communicate and share experiences with each other. We're excited about this decision and look forward to renewing our focus on supporting the incredible variety of ideas and expression that billions of people post and watch on YouTube every day around the world," Kent Walker, Vice President and General Counsel of Google wrote in the YouTube blog yesterday.

Viacom's Executive Vice President, General Counsel & Secretary Michael Fricklas, who has been the company's mouthpiece in this case, issued a statement yesterday as well. "We are disappointed with the judge's ruling, but confident we will win on appeal...YouTube and Google stole hundreds of thousands of video clips from artists and content creators, including Viacom, building a substantial business that was sold for billions of dollars. We believe that should not be allowed by law or common sense. 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."

Walker later updated YouTube's blog to remind us that this ruling affects other lawsuits against YouTube, including the British Premier League, who filed a class action suit against YouTube in 2007 for copyright infringement. Many of the League's original claims were dismissed in 2009, but claims for "statutory damages for works not registered in the US" were upheld.

The case with Viacom is, of course, far from over, but this ruling will serve as a strong precedent in future litigation.

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