Viacom wins reversal in landmark YouTube case over copyrighted videos

SAN FRANCISCO, Thu Apr 5, 2012 – A U.S. appeals court has revived lawsuits by Viacom Inc., the English Premier League and various film studios and television networks accusing Google Inc. of allowing copyrighted videos on its YouTube service without permission.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday reversed a June 2010 lower court decision in favor of YouTube, which had been considered a landmark in setting guidelines for how websites could use content uploaded by users.

“It’s hard to characterize this as anything other than a loss for Google, and potentially a significant one,” said Eric Goldman, director of the High Tech Law Institute at Santa Clara University School of Law. “It has given new life to a case that Google thought was dead.”

The original $1 billion lawsuit filed by Viacom in 2007 went to the heart of a major issue facing media companies, specifically how to win Internet viewers without ceding control of TV shows, movies and music.

It was seen as a test of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, a 1998 federal law making it illegal to produce technology to circumvent anti-piracy measures, and limiting liability of online service providers for copyright infringement by users.

Writing for a two-judge panel of the 2nd Circuit, Judge Jose Cabranes concluded that “a reasonable jury could find that YouTube had actual knowledge or awareness of specific infringing activity on its website.”

A YouTube spokeswoman said in an e-mailed statement: “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.”

Viacom, in a statement, said the appeals court “delivered a definitive, common sense message to YouTube: intentionally ignoring theft is not protected by the law.”