Viacom Sued YouTube

Licensing Expo 2016
YouTube's Logo at the Licensing Expo 2016. Gabe Ginsberg / Getty Images

Viacom sued Google for one billion dollars in damages over alleged copyright infringement on Google's YouTube. Media giant Viacom owned several popular networks, including MTV, Spike, Comedy Central, and Nickelodeon. Fans of Viacom-owned shows would frequently upload clips of shows without Viacom's permission. 


On Jue 23, 2010, the judge dismissed the lawsuit and found that YouTube was indeed protected by the safe harbor specified in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

The Issues

YouTube is a video hosting service that lets users submit their own content. Although YouTube's terms of service clearly state that users are forbidden from uploading copyrighted material without permission of the copyright holder. Nonetheless, this rule was ignored by many users.

Viacom alleged that YouTube "deliberately built up a library of infringing works" in order to gain traffic and make money. (Source New York Times - WhoseTube? Viacom Sues Google Over Video Clips )

Google General Counsel Kent Walker responded that YouTube was "even more popular since we took down Viacom's material." He highlighted the user-created content and partnerships YouTube had forged with other media companies like the BBC and Sony/BMG. 

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act

The part of this case that had the most potential for legal fallout was the "safe harbor" clause of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, or DMCA. The safe harbor clause may provide some protection for companies with services that host content without review, so long as the infringing content is promptly removed.

Google maintains that they have not violated copyright law. "We are confident that YouTube has respected the legal rights of copyright holders and believe the courts will agree." (Source ITWire - Google responds to Viacom’s $1b YouTube lawsuit)

The problem is that large companies, such as Viacom, face a huge burden to manually search for infringing content and notify Google. As soon as one video is removed, another user may be uploading a copy of the same video.

Filtering Software

The social networking site, MySpace started using filtering software in February 2007 to analyze music files uploaded to the site and prevent users from copyright infringement.

Google went to work to develop a similar system, but it was not ready fast enough for some content owners. Google's delay in implementing a similar system had some critics like Viacom claiming that Google was intentionally hesitating. Viacom claims that Google should have been taking the steps to proactively remove content rather than waiting for complaints.

Google clarified their development status with video filtering software and said that the tool required a lot of fine-tuning before it could be used to drive automated policy decisions. 

Google's system is now in place, and it makes it more efficient for copyright holders to detect infringements and automate their response. In some cases, copyright providers even allow the content to stay on the site and either add their own ads or monitor the traffic. This is useful for things like fan videos. 

Stop the Falsiness

In an ironic twist, on March 22, The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), Brave New Films, and announced that they were suing Viacom for requesting the removal of a video they did not feel was infringing on Viacom's copyright.