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Case Study – YouTube v. Viacom

What was this lawsuit about?

In 2006, Google bought YouTube for $1.65 billion (Ellingsen, 2014). YouTube, accused of illegally streaming and broadcasting 79, 000 copyrighted videos, was sued in 2007 by Viacom. Viacom, a leading producer in entertainment, had several allies against YouTube, including but not limited to Time Warner Inc and General Electric Co (Gershberg, Li, 2007). These allies didn’t hold up in court, and YouTube won two out of three appeals.

In what ways did the different appeal stages of the case change the outcome?

Following the Federal court finding that YouTube was protected from any legal ramifications under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, Viacom appealed this decision in June 2010 to prove YouTube knowingly published copyrighted material. The case was then heard in front of a jury at The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.  By April 2013, YouTube was again found innocent after the Second Circuit revived Viacom’s case but found flaws in all of their legal theories. Viacom appealed for a third time after this but was yet again unsuccessful. These multiple appeals appear futile at face value but were actually key in proving how the courts established that Viacom wrongfully believed that YouTube “induced” infringement and had therefore not been complying to Fair Use.

What was the final outcome of the case?

The Judge ruled in favor of YouTube on finding that YouTube had no knowledge of infringement of Viacom’s works and could not have “willfully blinded itself”. He also stated that YouTube does not have the “right and ability to control” infringement.

How does YouTube deal with copyright matters?

It was concluded in 2013 by U.S District Judge Louis Stanton that YouTube merely has to remove videos that infringe copyright after they receive a demand from the owner of that copyright. This means that Viacom’s argument that YouTube should have to constantly monitor its website for infringing videos is not viable.

How does YouTube define Fair Use?

The case itself found that online service providers are not ethically or legally obligated to delete material that has been used to create revenue unknowingly however they can still put copyright measures in place to identify what is a copyright breach and what videos fall under fair use. Following the case, YouTube classifies fair use content on their website as a legal doctrine that protects an uploaders right to use a portion of copyrighted material without permission from the creator.

References

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