In March 2007 Viacom filed a $1 billion copyright action against Google's YouTube website for contributory copyright infringement. Viacom wanted You Tube to be responsible for infringements committed by YouTube users uploading content they did not own. Viacom cited more than 100,000 instances of its copyrighted works being posted on YouTube and claimed YouTube knew its works were being infringed. It claimed the “safe harbor” provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) did not apply. Citing the Grokster case, Viacom contended that one who distributes a device with the object of promoting its use to infringe copyright, as shown by clear expression or other affirmative steps taken to foster infringement, is liable for the resulting acts of infringement by third parties.” Grokster, 545 U.S. at 919.
However, the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York rejected Viacom's claim that Google's site was liable for copyright infringement. Instead, the court granted Google's motion for summary judgment and found that YouTube qualified for the “safe harbor” protections of the DMCA.
Under the DMCA, online service providers can avoid liability for copyright infringement by appointing an agent to receive “takedown” notices from rights holders and then acting promptly to remove infringing materials. In order to qualify for this safe harbor, the service provider must not have actual knowledge that the material is infringing or, not be aware of facts or circumstances from which infringing activity is apparent.
“The present case shows that the DMCA notification regime works efficiently,” the court concluded, noting that “when Viacom over a period of months accumulated some 100,000 videos and then sent one mass take-down notice on February 2, 2007. By the next business day YouTube had removed virtually all of them.”
There is no doubt that congress passed the DMCA to reduce legal uncertainty facing online service providers, encouraging the growth of the internet and e-commerce. The ruling is the latest in a series of rulings upholding the safe harbor provisions against the attacks by various entertainment companies trying to restrict uploading of their content without their permission. In this case, Viacom contended that because YouTube had general knowledge that infringing videos were available on its service, it should be denied the safe harbor protections. If the court had agreed with Viacom, the safe harbors would not offer much protection. The court held that “General knowledge that infringement is ‘ubiquitous’ does not impose a duty on the service provider to monitor or search its service for infringements.” Only if the service provider receives specific notice from the owner, must the provider promptly remove the infringing material.”
Viacom announced that it will appeal the ruling.
Viacom International, Inc., v. YouTube, Inc., 2010 WL 2532404 (SDNY June 23, 2010)