A lower court’s decision to throw out a $1 billion lawsuit filed five years ago against YouTube by Viacom and other media companies has been reversed by a federal appeals court. In 2010, a federal judge agreed with YouTube, saying the company was shielded from Viacom’s claims by “safe harbor” provisions in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, however the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York vacated the original ruling on the basis that “a reasonable jury could conclude that YouTube had knowledge or awareness” of copyright infringement “at least with respect to a handful of specific clips.”
The digital copyright act provides some protections to Web site operators. Under the current interpretation of the law, copyright holders have to request that content be taken down before websites are required to act. Many companies are building their businesses on the Internet based on the assumption that they’re safe allowing uploading as long as they adhere to notices by copyright holders and take down copyrighted material that has been posted by third parties.
The copyright infringement suit sought damages for unauthorized video clips from shows that had been uploaded by users to YouTube. The federal court recommended that a lower court should review whether YouTube had been willfully blind to some users uploading copyrighted videos. The suit has become a symbol of the conflict between media companies and the new businesses that compete with them.
Viacom said that it was pleased by the ruling, releasing a statement saying, “The court delivered a definitive, common-sense message – intentionally ignoring theft is not protected by the law.” A statement released by YouTube said, “The Second Circuit has upheld the longstanding interpretation of the D.M.C.A. and rejected Viacom’s reading of the law. All that is left of the Viacom lawsuit that began as a wholesale attack on YouTube is a dispute over a tiny percentage of videos long ago removed from YouTube. Nothing in this decision impacts the way YouTube is operating. YouTube will continue to be a vibrant forum for free expression around the world.”