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Studios Lose Copyright Action Against YouTube

(CN) - YouTube is not liable for thousands of clips of copyrighted material posted to its site by users, a federal judge ruled, taking another look on remand from the 2nd Circuit.

The Thursday decision marks the second time U.S. District Judge Louis Stanton has granted YouTube and its parent, Google, summary judgment in the 6-year-old copyright infringement case brought by Viacom International and several other various film studios, television networks, music publishers and sports leagues.

In first siding with the Internet companies nearly three years ago, Stanton found them entitled to safe-harbor protection under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) because they were given insufficient notice of the particular infringements.

The 2nd Circuit decided in April 2012, however, that "the plaintiffs may have raised a material issue of fact regarding YouTube's knowledge or awareness of specific instances of infringement."

It remanded for further fact-finding as to whether "any of the clips-in-suit were in fact syndicated to any other third party."

Stanton said YouTube and Google again persevered after submitting "a list of 63,060 clips-in-suit" for which it claimed to have never received adequate notice of infringement.

He called it "ingenious" for Viacom to argue that it does not have the burden of proving notice, but said "its foundation is an anachronistic, pre-Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), concept."

"The problem is clearly illustrated on the record this case, which establishes that

'... site traffic on YouTube had soared to more than 1 billion daily video views, with more than 24 hours of new video uploaded to the site every minute,' and the natural consequence that no service provider could possibly be aware of the contents of each such video," Stanton wrote.

Lacking proof that YouTube had knowledge or awareness of any specific infringements of the clips in suit, Viacom also failed to show "willful blindness," according to the ruling.

"Here, the examples proffered by plaintiffs (to which they claim YouTube was willfully blind) give at most information that infringements were occurring with particular works, and occasional indications of promising areas to locate and remove them," Stanton wrote. "The specific locations of infringements are not supplied: at most, an area of search is identified, and YouTube is left to find the infringing clip."

DMCA precedent dictates, however, "that service providers who do not locate and remove infringing materials they do not specifically know of should not suffer the loss of safe harbor protection," according to the ruling.

Viacom claimed that YouTube intentionally adopted a policy of waiting for takedown notices of infringement to attract users to its site, pointing out that the website bars the uploading of certain copyrighted material, such as whole movies and television shows, to "avoid looking like a dumping ground for copyrighted stuff," but fails to restrict other materials, such as music videos, commercials and news programs.

Stanton found the argument failed, however, to show that YouTube influenced or participated in the infringement.

"YouTube's decisions to restrict its monitoring efforts to certain groups of infringing clips, like its decision 'to restrict access to its proprietary search mechanisms,' do not exclude it from the safe harbor, regardless of its motivations," he wrote.

The judge also disagreed with Viacom that YouTube's search technologies steer users toward accessing copyrighted works, noting that these technologies represent an "automated system," designed to allow users to search for content of their choice without influencing their decision to access specific copyrighted works.

The only evidence that YouTube may have supported viewing of copyrighted material rested with the clips it selected to display on its ever-evolving homepage, according to the ruling.

"YouTube employees regularly selected clips to feature 'with conspicuous positioning on its homepage,' and on two occasions chose to highlight a clip-in-suit," Stanton noted.

Nevertheless, "the record establishes that YouTube influenced its users by exercising its right not to monitor its services for infringements, by enforcing basic rules regarding content (such as limitation son violent, sexual or hate material), by facilitating access to all user-stored material regardless (and without actual or constructive knowledge) of whether it was infringing, and by monitoring its site for some infringing material and assisting some content owners in their efforts to do the same," he added. "There is no evidence that YouTube induced its users to submit infringing videos, provided users with detailed instructions about what content to upload or edited their content, prescreened submission for quality, steered users to infringing videos, or otherwise interacted with infringing users to a point where it might be said to have participated in their infringing activity."

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