Viacom’s $1-billion infringement suit against YouTube revived


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A federal appeals court judge has revived a $1-billion copyright infringement lawsuit by Viacom Inc. against Google Inc.’s YouTube.

Viacom had sued YouTube in 2007, claiming that the online video site allowed users to post segments of its popular TV shows, including Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” and Nickelodeon’s “SpongeBob SquarePants” without authorization.


The U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday sent the matter back to federal district court and instructed the judge to determine whether YouTube knew about the infringing content but turned a blind eye.

Judge Jose A. Cabranes wrote that the Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s “safe harbor” provides online sites protection against copyright infringement. The district court ruled in June 2010 that those protections extended to YouTube because they lacked sufficient notice of the individual infringements -- some 79,000 individual clips uploaded from 2005 to 2008.

Cabranes vacated the district court’s summary judgment finding “because a reasonable jury could conclude that YouTube had knowledge or awareness ... at least with respect to a handful of specific clips.”

Viacom issued a statement Thursday applauding the decision, noting, “The court delivered a definitive, common sense message -- intentionally ignoring theft is not protected by the law.”

YouTube lauded the court’s interpretation of the protections awarded under the copyright law and sought to minimize the impact of the ruling.

“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,” the company said in a statement. “Nothing in this decision impacts the way YouTube is operating. YouTube will continue to be a vibrant forum for free expression around the world.”



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-- Dawn C. Chmielewski