Viacom International, Inc. v. YouTube, Inc.

Viacom International, Inc. v. YouTube, Inc.
718 F.Supp.2d 514 (S.D.N.Y. 2010)

Facts: Viacom collectively owns various production studios and the copyrights to associated works. YouTube is a service provider that operates a website where users may upload video files free of charge. Viacom sued YouTube under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act for direct and secondary infringement claims related to the availability through their site of copyrighted video clips that resulted in hundreds of millions of unlawful views. YouTube moved for summary judgment on the theory that its liability was limited by the safe harbor provision of the DMCA.

Issue: Whether the statutory phrases within §512(c) of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (“safe harbor”) refer to a general awareness of infringing activity or actual or constructive knowledge of specific and identifiable infringements of individual items.

Holding: The safe harbor provision refers to actual or constructive knowledge of specific and identifiable infringements. Protection extends to service providers who have no such knowledge and to those who upon becoming aware of specific infringements, act expeditiously to remove the content. Summary judgment granted for defendant.

Analysis: First the court set out to understand the purpose of the §512(c) safe harbor provision. The overarching policy consideration of the legislature was that it wanted to encourage copyright owners to make their works readily available on the Internet and to have such availability facilitated by service providers. However, the legislature recognized that service providers needed limited liability in regards to the potentially infringing activity of users via such websites in order to allow the providers to continue to improve and expand their services. The safe harbor provision protects all who qualify from liability for all monetary relief for direct, vicarious and contributory infringement (injunctive relief as well in some circumstances). Next the court analyzed the requirements of the safe harbor provision. Subsection (c)(1)(A) sets forth a knowledge and red flag standard met either by (i) actual knowledge of infringement or (ii) awareness of facts or circumstances from which infringing activity is apparent. Meeting either of these standards does not necessarily deprive the provider of the safe harbor protections. Instead, satisfaction of either standard triggers the provider’s duty to expeditiously remove the infringing material from the site (§152(c)(1(A)(iii)). Keeping in mind the purpose of the statute, the court held that the phrases did not refer to general knowledge, but to knowledge of specific and identifiable infringement. Such interpretation would avoid disincentivizing service providers from developing and improving their sites. The court then cited cases from various district courts, the Ninth Circuit, and the Second Circuit which all reached similar conclusions regarding the safe harbor provision – that the statute requires knowledge of specific and identifiable infringements. To hold otherwise would inappropriately impose a monitoring duty on the service providers.

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