Google Scores Big Success in Its Dispute With Viacom

The legal climate for intellectual property owners in infringement disputes may have just become more challenging.

The federal Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) of 1996 was passed in part as a response to the increasing complexity of protecting copyrighted material in the age of the internet, file sharing and the ease of copying digital material. The law criminalized numerous acts associated with the copying, production and dissemination of copied material and placed the onus on preventing copyright infringement on, among others, internet service providers (ISPs). Specifically, it required that ISPs take action to halt copyright infringement upon notification by a copyright holder that infringement has occurred.

Relying on the “Safe Harbor” provision of the DMCA, Viacom filed suit against YouTube owner Google in 2007 claiming that Google “had built its [YouTube] business by hosting tens of thousands of copyright-infringing videos” owned by Viacom without authorization. The closely observed lawsuit was thought by some to have hinged on the following legal point:

  • In YouTube’s earlier years, an estimated 75 to 80 percentof the content posted on the site was copyrighted material. With such a high rate of infringement, Viacom asserted that YouTube “must” have been aware of infringement and must have willfully ignored “red flags.”

Despite the rationality to Viacom’s claim, a New York federal court determined in April of 2013 that “the burden of showing that YouTube knew or was aware of the specific infringements of the works in the suit cannot be shifted to YouTube to disprove.” In other words, Viacom did not prove specific infringements and YouTube did not have to. Summary judgment was awarded to YouTube. Armed with the summary judgment, Google settled the case with Viacom under terms that remain private but may have been highly advantageous to Google.

As this case illustrates, proving infringement and recovering compensation for losses are difficult. If you feel a company has infringed on your or your firm’s intellectual property rights, it is important to obtain legal assistance from a firm with a track record of success in civil litigation. To speak with an experienced copyright infringement and intellectual property attorney in Miami, call 305-341-3100.