Google rebuts Viacom lawsuit

Times Staff Writer

Google Inc. fired back against Viacom Inc. on Monday, arguing that the media giant’s $1-billion copyright infringement case threatened the way hundreds of millions of people legitimately exchange information, news and entertainment online.

In a federal court filing in New York, Google argued that YouTube, the Internet search engine’s popular video website, could not be held liable for clips of “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart,” “SpongeBob SquarePants” or other Viacom shows that users had posted because copyright law provided a shield.

Google also said that Congress, in passing the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act, struck a balance between protecting the copyright holders’ content online and shielding the interests of service providers storing the information. The law gives providers of Internet access, e-mail and Web services a “safe harbor” from liability, so long as they act quickly to remove infringing material, Google said.

“Congress, in the DMCA, provides hosting platforms like YouTube with very clear protections against lawsuits of this nature ... provided we take certain steps,” said Mia Garlick, Google product counsel. “It has been our position consistently that we meet and exceed those steps that are laid out in the DMCA.”

Viacom didn’t mince words in responding to Google’s assertions. “It is obvious that YouTube has knowledge of infringing material on their site and they are profiting from it. It is simply not credible that a company whose mission is to organize the world’s information claims that it can’t find what’s on YouTube.


“Unfortunately, Google continues to distinguish itself by failing to join the majority of major digital companies that have affirmatively embraced the legal rights of copyright holders,” Viacom said in a statement.

New York-based Viacom sued Mountain View, Calif.-based Google and San Bruno, Calif.-based YouTube in March, seeking at least $1 billion in damages for alleged copyright violations.

It accused YouTube of deliberately building a library of copyrighted works to attract viewers to its website and increase its value -- and making calculated decisions “not to take reasonable precautions to deter the rampant infringement.”

Google denied the allegations in its 12-page legal response and offered a lengthy list of arguments that it would make in court, including that video excerpts posted online are fair use.

Garlick said YouTube went well beyond the law in providing copyright holders ways to verify that their videos are on the site and an automated process for requesting that unauthorized clips be removed.

“We’re very confident in our legal position and believe that we’re definitely meeting our obligation,” Garlick said.

Some legal observers, such as Matt Jackson, an associate professor of telecommunications at Penn State University, said the case could hinge on whether the courts determine that YouTube must screen the videos that users post.