Federal district judge Louis Stanton granted summary judgment in favor of Google in the massive online copyright litigation that Viacom brought against YouTube in 2007. In his 30-page opinion, Judge Stanton found that YouTube is covered under the safe harbor specified in section 512 of US copyright law, which was enacted as part of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act in 1998 (leading to the nickname “DMCA 512” or more simply 512).
DMCA 512 states that a network service provider such as YouTube can avoid copyright infringement liability for content posted on its site if it responds to properly-formed takedown notices from copyright owners by removing the content in question. This law is often mischaracterized as “Websites are legally obligated to respond to takedown notices.” They aren’t actually obligated to take content down when asked; they just avoid secondary liability for infringement if they do so.
Many are calling this decision (which means that the case will not go to trial) a victory for Google and a defeat for Big Media. But that is hardly the case. In fact, it’s quite possibly the outcome that Viacom was hoping for.
As I noted last October, Viacom should not have wanted to win this case at the lower court level. Its preferred outcome ought to be to get the law changed so that website operators like YouTube have the responsibility to ensure that unauthorized copyrighted content doesn’t go up in the first place. District courts don’t normally change laws; higher courts do. Of course, Viacom intends to appeal the case up the legal chain.
It is worth noting, however, that Judge Stanton relied heavily in his opinion on the recent district court opinion in Universal Music Group v. Veoh, in which Judge Howard Matz similarly sided with the website operator by asserting that it did enough by complying with 512 takedown notices. The media industry’s push to hold network service providers and website operators more responsible for protecting copyrights has not stopped and will not stop here.