Viacom's $1 billion lawsuit claiming that YouTube is legally liable for hosting copyright-infringing work was dealt a death blow Thursday, when a judge issued a summary judgment in favor of the online video portal.
"The burden of showing that YouTube knew or was aware of the specific infringements of the works in suit cannot be shifted to YouTube to disprove," U.S District Judge Louis Stanton said in his ruling from New York.
Stanton had ruled in 2010 that while YouTube was hosting said videos, it was not breaking the law as long as it was unaware of the videos' copyrights. He cited the Digital Millennium Copyright Act's "safe harbor" provision, which exonerates a file-hosting site if it is unaware of the illegal content.
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Last April, however, the Second Circuit Court of Appeal reinstated the suit, claiming that the court hadn't properly considered whether YouTube may have had actual knowledge of specific infringing clips or whether YouTube might have intentionally prevented itself from having that knowledge.
Viacom initially filed its $1 billion lawsuit against YouTube and other companies in 2007 to stop the posting of clips for "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart," "South Park," "SpongeBob SquarePants" and other programs without permission. A ruling that would have given YouTube more responsibility for its users' activity would have a big impact on it and other file-hosting sites
But Stanton's decision frequently cites a copyright suit filed by Universal Music Group against Veoh, a now-defunct video service. The judges in that case also sided with the Web aggregators over the copyright owners.
Kent Walker, senior vice-president and general counsel for YouTube's parent company Google, hailed the ruling in a post on the YouTube blog site..
"This is a win not just for YouTube, but for the billions of people worldwide who depend on the web to freely exchange ideas and information.In enacting the Digital Millennium Copyright Act," Walker said, "Congress effectively balanced the public interest in free expression with the rights of copyright holders. The court today reaffirmed an established judicial consensus that the DMCA protects web platforms like YouTube that work with rightsholders and take appropriate steps to remove user-generated content that rightsholders notify them is infringing.
"The growing YouTube community includes not only a billion individual users, but tens of thousands of partners who earn revenue from the platform -- from independent musicians and creators to some of the world's biggest record labels, movie studios, and news organizations. Today's decision recognizes YouTube as a thriving and vibrant forum for all these users, creators and consumers alike. Today is an important day for the Internet."
Pamela Chelin contribured to this report.