Viacom has lost its $1 billion action against Google, which claimed that the company should be responsible for material uploaded to YouTube which infringed upon Viacom's copyright. A lower court ruling has found that Google is protected under 'safe harbour' as laid out in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).
Viacom says it will be appealing the decision, labelling it "fundamentally flawed." While that assessment is debateable, what's undeniable is that this ruling, if upheld at appeal, will no doubt set the precedent for many other cases of its nature.
The argument from Google holds that because YouTube gives provision for copyright holders to have infringing content removed from its service it isn't engaging in any actionable copyright infringement itself. Viacom argues that YouTube should be held accountable for what users upload to the site because Google and YouTube staff had knowledge that copyright infringing content was present on the site.
The court decided that because Google complies with any request from copyright holders to remove infringing content from YouTube it cannot be held liable itself for those infringements. Only in specific instances of failing to remove copyright-infringing content would YouTube be unable to claim safe harbour; mere knowledge of copyright infringement occurring on its service is not enough for YouTube to be culpable for that infringement.
Google goes to great lengths on YouTube to ensure that copyright infringing content is removed whenever possible. Ironically Viacom itself has previously filed takedown requests against videos uploaded to YouTube by Viacom employees, showing just how hard it is to tell whether content on YouTube is authorised to be there.
YouTube also uses a system called Content ID which aims to stop infringing content even making it onto the service in the first place by comparing every video uploaded against an archive of content provided by copyright holders. If a video is a match, then whether the video will appear on YouTube is decided by preferences the rights holder controls. Options include blocking the whole video, stripping the audio, or the placement of adverts which can then generate revenue for the copyright holder.
Other similar services may not have the resources available to YouTube to implement such sophisticated systems as Content ID, but they are as vigilant in removing copyright-infringing material when found. Thanks to this ruling, they should be more confident in knowing that they won't be held accountable for the uncontrollable actions of their users.
For our part, we're with Google and YouTube on this one. It would be unprofessional to suggest that Viacom's attack against YouTube was ill-conceived and, to quote Viacom, "fundamentally flawed," so we won't. But we won't disagree if you want to say it.