How the YouTube-Viacom Ruling Will Set the Web Free

In the ongoing battle between copyright control and "fair use," the pendulum swings towards the latter

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For three years, media and legal observers have been anticipating the outcome of Viacom's $1 billion lawsuit against Google's video site, YouTube. Viacom, which owns MTV, Paramount Pictures and programs such as South Park and The Daily Show, alleged that YouTube willingly exploited its copyrighted content. Google, on the other hand, maintained that the Digital Millennium Copyright Act relieves it from checking user-generated material before it's posted.

On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Louis Stanton ruled in favor of Google, saying that when YouTube received "specific notice that a particular item infringed a copyright, they swiftly removed it." While Viacom promises to appeal the ruling, its prospects don't look promising. Web enthusiasts and legal experts, meanwhile, are musing about what this means for the Web at large.

  • Reinforces the Pro-Sharing Ethos of the Web, writes Edward Berridge at The Inquirer: " If Viacom won, it would not only get huge amounts of cash but it would also mean that the entertainment industries would effectively take control of the Internet. They could then scare the willies out of all the Internet service providers (ISPs), search engines and website operators to ban everything that might lead to filesharing. Unfortunately Google proved to be a very difficult nut to crack, and it prevailed, dashing the media cartels' hopes."
  • Ensures YouTube's Long-Term Survival, writes Richard Waters at the Financial Times: "[The judge] has given YouTube an emphatic green light to start placing adverts against a much wider range of videos on its site...While the case was unresolved, YouTube took a conservative approach to where it placed adverts, limiting them to videos covered by agreements with content owners. A large portion of its site went un-monetised. Judge Stanton explicitly concludes, however, that YouTube need not worry about placing advertisements on copyright-infringing content by mistake, just as long as it doesn't have specific knowledge of the infringements."
  • Loosens the Rules on Content Hosting Sites, writes Andy Greenberg at Forbes: "It doesn't matter if you know you're hosting infringing content, so long as you don't know exactly what infringing content. Google clearly knew (at least at some points) that YouTube had plenty of copyright-infringing material, as Viacom proved by pulling out old emails from the company. But given the volume of clips (at least hundreds of thousands) that Viacom was claiming Google was hosting, Stanton interpreted the DMCA to mean that Google could only be expected to identify those specific clips with Viacom's help."
  • Media Companies Lose, write Sam Schechner and Jessica Vascellaro at The Wall Street Journal: "It is a setback for media companies, who for years have been trying to curb Internet companies' ability to distribute their content without compensating them. Media executives say they expect companies like YouTube will continue to automatically filter for copyrighted content, however, as the companies jockey for licensing agreements with media producers."
  • We Still Need a Proper Balance Between Copyright Control and 'Fair Use,' writes Greg Sterling at Search Engine Land: "The big irony of the case is that Viacom was arguably not damaged by its shows' unauthorized exposures on YouTube but benefited from them. There's also evidence that Viacom executives knew what was going on and were pleased about it. Still the copyright owner should be allowed to control the distribution of his/her/its content. Striking the right balance between copyright control and 'fair use' in the digital age is a tricky one that the law has arguably not yet been able to strike."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.