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July 2013: Victory for YouTube and Google in Landmark Digital Copyright Case

July 2013

Quinn Emanuel obtained another major victory on behalf of our clients YouTube Inc. and Google Inc. in its ongoing defense of YouTube’s path-breaking internet service against claims by Viacom International that YouTube’s service violates Viacom’s copyrights. The case began in 2008, when Viacom sued YouTube for one billion dollars, alleging that nearly 80,000 clips containing Viacom’s copyrighted material appeared on YouTube’s website without Viacom’s authorization. Google and YouTube, however, contended that YouTube’s website was protected under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which provides a safe harbor for services such as YouTube that store and provide access to user-uploaded materials. In 2010, Judge Louis L. Stanton in the Southern District of New York agreed with YouTube, granting YouTube’s motion for summary judgment on all grounds.

Viacom then appealed to the Second Circuit. In April 2012, the Second Circuit affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded the case for further proceedings. The Second Circuit largely agreed with YouTube on its view of the law, especially regarding the standard necessary to show that YouTube “knew” or had “awareness” of infringing material on its website. However, the Second Circuit remanded the case back to the district court, instructing the district court to conduct additional inquiries into the facts based on the Second Circuit’s opinion.

Upon returning to the district court, Quinn Emanuel quickly brought the case back to summary judgment on all four issues. On April 18, 2013, the district court granted YouTube’s renewed summary judgment motion in full. The district court’s decision continues to set precedent that sets the rules of the road for the information superhighway. The district court held that there was no evidence to meet the Second Circuit’s “knowledge or awareness” standard, especially in light of evidence showing Viacom’s longstanding practice of using stealth marketing techniques to upload its own clips onto YouTube under disguised names and accounts. The district court also agreed that there was no evidence that YouTube had willfully blinded itself to any alleged copyright infringement. Last, the district court agreed with YouTube that YouTube does not have the “right and ability to control” any alleged infringement on its service, even if YouTube removed content from its website for business reasons. This final ruling sets an important precedent that websites may take decisions about what content they allow on their service without losing the protection of the DMCA.

Viacom has promised to appeal the case back to the Second Circuit.