Viacom vs. YouTube: Copyright battle back on, take two

Viacom vs. YouTube: Copyright battle back on, take two

Summary: Back to the drawing board for the Viacom vs. YouTube case, as an appeals panel sends the case back to the lower court. But the decision could mean bad news for Web companies.

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A U.S. appeals court has reversed a lower court decision, reviving the Google-owned YouTube vs. Viacom mass copyright suit, which now means the alleged mass copyright infringement battle is back on.

The U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals sent the case back to the lower court to see whether YouTube ignored infringing content and failed to delete it, which when it ruled in 2010 said that YouTube did remove such content when it was notified and was therefore protected from liability under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

But the decision will leave many technology companies in the lurch, as this DMCA precedence went on to ultimately protect a great deal of startups and file-sharing companies.

DMCA requires websites and services to have prior knowledge or "awareness" of specific infringing activity before a copyright infringement liability case can be brought.

YouTube quickly removes illegal content when it is notified by copyright holders, and has since implemented and bolstered a system to prevent copyright material from the viewing public.

But Viacom maintained its view that YouTube should not have been granted DMCA protection because documentation it presented showed that YouTube staff were aware of infringement, and had the capability to remove such content, but took no action.

In 2007, shortly after Viacom and CBS split, Viacom accused YouTube --- which had only then recently been acquired by search giant Google --- of allowing and actively encouraging users to upload video and music that infringed others' copyright.

The case at one point threatened to force Google into presenting every single record of every single video ever watched, including the usernames, IP addresses, and other information associated with that account. This could have led to legal action against unwitting YouTube users for watching or uploading copyrighted material.

But this is not expected to revive such concerns for users.

YouTube said in a statement to sister site CNET that this suit began as a "wholesale attack" on the site, and that the dispute was over a "tiny percentage of videos long ago removed from YouTube". It added: "Nothing in this decision impacts the way YouTube is operating. YouTube will continue to be a vibrant forum for free expression around the world."

But the case translates to putting the burden of responsibility back on the Website owner, rather than the uploader, which could send massive ripples through the online community, from search engines to social networks, like Facebook and Google+.

The lower court will now seek to determine whether YouTube knowingly shut its eyes and closed its ears to copyright infringement. If it turns out it did, then all eyes of Silicon Valley will be staring at YouTube for frankly screwing up the past three years of DMCA protectionist bliss.

Image credit: Spencer E. Holtaway/Flickr.

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4 comments
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  • legal goons are attacking our freedom

    since it's directed at google I bet M$ and apple have a hand in instigating viacom.
    The Linux Geek
  • And round and round goes the Merry-Go-Round

    This thing will never end. Old content will forever be running to Congress whenever new technology comes along, which seem to them to usurp their control of information. I believe technology companies need to develop infrastructure which usurps old entertainment companies' infrastructure, in a manner which is acceptable to consumers - rather than live with Old Content trying to stuff their dated business models down the throats of consumers, while defending their business models to the death, through lobbying and litigation.

    I find it disturbing that ISPs are working with Old Content to make the Internet a police state, and advocates who normally champion individual liberties, are joining the effort. So now Internet activity will be actively and pervasively monitored. It is enough to make Joseph Stalin proud. This kind of activity in the physical world would lead to a revolution in America, but now corporations are high fiving each other over their 'ingenious' plan.

    I believe Old Content is a real and present threat to our liberties. They refuse to accept that laws and litigation can curb behavior only so far, and they will try any and all means to do so, our freedom be damned. (After all, we've had laws throughout human history, but they have never stopped crime - only reduced it.) As far as I'm concerned, Old Content needs to be disrupted, and entertainment should be restructured to be accepting of technology, and mindful of the freedoms of its customers. I think tech companies should partner with others, and form an alternate entertainment sector, and / or invest in Old Content, and change their thinking.

    I believe tech companies should never join with Old Content to produce the type of monstrosity now being proposed by certain large ISPs. They should instead be telling Old Content that any action that threatens individual liberties will not be tolerated, and Old Content will have to look to alternate / creative means, to satisfy their concerns.
    P. Douglas
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