In a landmark opinion today, Judge Louis Stanton of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York granted summary judgment on behalf of YouTube in defense of a billion-dollar suit brought by Viacom and other content providers, holding that as a matter of law, the safe harbor provision of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) completely protected YouTube against Viacom's claims of copyright infringement. In other words, so long as YouTube cooperates with copyright holders upon receiving notice of possible infringement, legally they're in the clear.
Viacom had alleged, basically, that YouTube knew that folks were uploading copyrighted materials onto the site all the time and didn't do anything about it unless they were specifically told about an infringing work. But as Judge Stanton held, knowing that this activity may be prevalent or ubiquitous isn't enough: the DMCA puts the onus on rights holders to protect themselves, and it's not up to YouTube to pre-screen all content to make sure it's not infringing:
The infringing works in suit may be a small fraction of millions of works posted by others on the service’s platform, whose provider cannot by inspection determine whether the use has been licensed by the owner, or whether its posting is a "fair use" of the material, or even whether its copyright owner or licensee objects to its posting. The DMCA is explicit: it shall not be construed to condition "safe harbor" protection on "a service provider monitoring its service or affirmatively seeking facts indicating infringing activity.
Judge Stanton's 30 page order is here. As Wired notes.
The ruling, if it survives, is a boon for internet freedom, especially as it applies to search engines, video-hosting companies and social networking sites like Facebook and micro-blogging services like Twitter. In short, the decision says internet companies, even if they know they are hosting infringing material, are immune from copyright liability if they promptly remove works at a rights-holder’s request — under what is known as a takedown notice.
"Today’s decision isn’t just about YouTube," said Center for Democracy & Technology lawyer David Sohn. "Without this decision, user generated content would dry up and the internet would cease to be a participatory medium."
Viacom has already announced its plans to appeal.
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