Thoughts On The Viacom-YouTube Lawsuitby Doug Mataconis
Yesterday, Viacom filed a multi-billion dollar lawsuit against Google, the parent company of YouTube alleging massive violations of copyright law:
Viacom, the parent company of MTV, Nickelodeon and Comedy Central, filed a wide-ranging lawsuit against Google on Tuesday, accusing it of â€œmassive copyright infringement.â€ Viacom said it was seeking more than $1 billion in damages and an injunction prohibiting Google and YouTube from committing further infringement.
Citing the $1.65 billion that Google paid for YouTube, the complaint said that â€œYouTube deliberately built up a library of infringing works to draw traffic to the YouTube site, enabling it to gain a commanding market share, earn significant revenues and increase its enterprise value.â€ The complaint was filed in United States District Court in New York.
Google said it was still reviewing the lawsuit but repeated past assertions that copyright law shields it from liability for clips posted by its users
I am not an intellectual property lawyer, but at a glance, but it seems pretty straightforward to me that if YouTube was knowingly allowing users to post clips from copyrighed material without the consent of the copyright owner, then there is clear liability on their part for the violation.
It is analagous to the Napster lawsuit from the early 90s; Napster was knowingly allowing its users to trade copyrighted music. Two Federal Courts found, correctly I think, that this violated the rights of the copyright holders in the music and ordered the service shut down. The YouTube situation is slightly differeent from Napster only that there is no evidence that YouTube has actively encouraged users to post copyrighted material. Nonetheless, the risks for Google seem pretty high:
Joseph M. Potenza, a partner at Banner & Witcoff in Washington, said Viacom had a case, judging from â€œthe amount of material and the financial benefit that Google is getting.â€ Under copyright law, Google might have a defense if it was not told about the copyrighted material, or if it did not benefit financially from it. But neither defense applies in this case, Mr. Potenza said.
But the law is only half the equation here.
Viacom is mostly likely on the right side of the law, but much like the music companies that brought down
Viacom and other media companies would be wise to look at the Napster case and the shattered reputation of the RIAA before they proceed with gusto against YouTube.