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Google And Viacom Finally Settle The Big YouTube Lawsuit

from the about-time dept

I'm somewhat surprised this took nearly this long, but it appears that Google and Viacom have finally settled their long-running legal fight over whether or not YouTube was liable for copyright infringement on the site. So far, Viacom had been losing pretty badly at nearly every step of the process -- and YouTube is considered so completely legit at this point that the more Viacom fought, not only did it look worse and worse, but at least some of the legal geniuses there must have realized that the court was going to wipe the floor so clean with them that rulings they really didn't like were going to be written and used as precedents for other innovative services.

The terms of the settlement are not public, but in this case, it likely doesn't much matter. I'd be surprised if much (or any) money changed hands (Update: Yup, it appears no money changed hands). Both companies spent many, many, many millions of dollars in the lawsuit to date, and it clearly made sense to stop it from going any further (especially from Viacom's standpoint, because it was pretty clear that it was going to lose really badly). While this means there won't be a useful Supreme Court ruling that reinforces the DMCA's safe harbors, the initial victories by Google in the lower courts should have enough precedential value to be useful in many other cases.

In the end, Viacom wasted more than seven years fighting YouTube in this particular case, and not a single court seemed to think particularly highly of its theories. Its closest "victory" in the process still involved the appeals court more or less rejecting every one of Viacom's theories. If I'm a Viacom shareholder (and, thankfully, I'm not), at this point I'm asking why the company spent so many years and so much money trying to sue one of the most popular and useful distribution platforms out there.

In the end, the case is perhaps one of the most perfect examples of how old media reacts badly to new innovations and immediately reaches for the only real tool in its toolbox against disruptive innovation: flailing about angrily in the court system, hoping to kill the innovation. Thankfully, seven years later, this process has finally been put to bed.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

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    Ima Fish (profile), Mar 18th, 2014 @ 7:21am

    Viacom's argument in part was: Your honor, Google is guilty of copyright infringement for providing access to content we ourselves uploaded to YouTube for promotional purposes.

    It's no wonder they lost.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 18th, 2014 @ 7:23am

    such a shame that other industries dont take notice of this and start to innovate themselves or at least use the innovation that has already come about!

     

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      Pixelation, Mar 18th, 2014 @ 7:59am

      Re:

      "such a shame that other industries dont take notice of this and start to innovate themselves or at least use the innovation that has already come about!"

      That would require work. Copyright has become about not working. It's the Golden Goose.

       

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        DannyB (profile), Mar 18th, 2014 @ 2:15pm

        Re: Re:

        The best proof of that is the fact that content creators seem to think they are entitled to work once and then never have to work again.

        Gee, it would sure be nice if a house builder thought that once they built a house they should be able to receive income from it forever. Oh, wait. Some actually do as they take notice of how eternal copyright works.

        You hear copyright owners talk about the evils of limiting copyright to merely life of author plus ninety years. "How are my children going to get income from this?" Etc.

        Copyright is all about entitlement and not working.

         

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    Violynne (profile), Mar 18th, 2014 @ 7:41am

    This process from Viacom.

    Next up: Warner Bros.

    Then, Universal, Sony...

    Sooner or later, the bombardment will eventually end up in favor of the legacy business model.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Mar 18th, 2014 @ 7:46am

      Re:

      Indeed, it will be a company that hasn't uploaded any infringing videos to Youtube and one that hasn't already marked their own cards that will no doubt continue where Viacom has now exited to bring a case against Youtube for copyright infringement.

       

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      Sunhawk (profile), Mar 18th, 2014 @ 10:49am

      Re:

      Each failure offers case precedents, however. You need a company with large enough coffers to fight, but hasn't goofed in the way Viacom did. And I think all of the 'big players' have made the "DMCA'ed an authorized upload" error, and I'm pretty sure they've all DMCA'ed content that wasn't theirs.

      What Viacom et all doesn't want almost above all else is a court precedent that supports "making an invalid DMCA has actual penalties" suits *against* them; because if one of the latter occurs and succeeds, they've got to spend more or stop being so flagrant.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 18th, 2014 @ 7:42am

    So lets now see if the MAFIAA does a 180 turn regarding its case against Megaupload or stops the forthcoming civil action that they are now trying to bring against the company. I guess the MAFIAA would rather destroy the Earth before letting go of the case against Megaupload or letting go of any further civil action against the company either.

     

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    Pirate Via, Mar 18th, 2014 @ 7:49am

    But...but...pirates...they want to give us all their spare money on their terms instead of giving us all their spare money on our terms.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 18th, 2014 @ 8:06am

    They kept going because it's a warning. If you aren't prepared to spend the better part of a decade and millions upon millions of dollars defending yourself, don't launch something they don't like. Google had the endurance; start ups won't.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Mar 18th, 2014 @ 8:17am

      Re:

      Stick with indie. There is enough of it now that the labels and studios really can not do much about it.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Mar 18th, 2014 @ 1:09pm

        Re: Re:

        Unless the collection companies file lawsuits for years against whatever central site the indie is hosted on, on whatever specious grounds they can dream up.

         

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      Anonymous Coward, Mar 18th, 2014 @ 8:20am

      Re:

      I think that's a good point. The point that these legacy players are getting across with the lawsuits against Google (for instance) is ... they don't care if they are legally wrong. They are willing to spend a ton of money to bury you and if you can't keep up with the legal expense they will bury you.

      By constantly fighting Google, who can afford to fight back, they are saying that while Google can afford to defend itself look how much money we are willing to pour against this big entity that can defend itself. Imagine how much more willing we will be to spend our money against a defenseless startup and bury them even if they are legally right. The amount of money that they spent on Google is proof to all startups that the legacy players are willing to dish out a lot of money against anything that wishes to compete with them so if you want to compete you better make sure you can defend yourself financially first. Maybe that's the message the legacy players are intending to send. So, in a sense, the legacy players did indirectly win.

       

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    Anonymous Anonymous Coward, Mar 18th, 2014 @ 8:07am

    Shareholder Value

    What do the shareholders actually think about these courtroom strategies? I mean, do they (the shareholders) think that suing is a method that will produce greater value? What goodwill is lost by such behavior, and does it show on the balance sheet?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 18th, 2014 @ 8:12am

    Usually the strategy is to ware and tare the unwanted competitor down with expensive lawsuits until they close their door due to being unable to keep up with the legal expenses (even if they didn't do anything legally wrong). In the case of Google this wasn't such a great idea I suppose.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 18th, 2014 @ 8:18am

    Viacom won

    One billion dollars pales in comparison to the large-scale theft of advertising revenue enabled by ContentID.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Mar 18th, 2014 @ 11:33am

      Re: Viacom won

      Viacom won because by settling, that denies the precedents this case would have set to protect Youtube and similar in the future.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Mar 18th, 2014 @ 11:40am

        Re: Re: Viacom won

        Pretty sure the standing rulings are still precedents so they didn't even 'win' in that sense.

         

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 18th, 2014 @ 11:40am

    It really was nice of Google to let Viacom stop kicking itself in the balls over and over again as hard as they could for free. Good guy that Google.

     

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    That Anonymous Coward (profile), Mar 18th, 2014 @ 3:33pm

    Poor Viacom, struggling day after day not making any money because pirates steal it all. I am amazed they managed to have millions and millions to throw into a hole to try and stop their ship from sinking, a hole they blew into the the side of their own ship.

     

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    LAB (profile), Mar 18th, 2014 @ 6:43pm

    "In the end, the case is perhaps one of the most perfect examples of how old media reacts badly to new innovations and immediately reaches for the only real tool in its toolbox against disruptive innovation: flailing about angrily in the court system, hoping to kill the innovation."

    I do not agree and find it disappointing you don't put the case filing into historical context. The suit was filed in 2007. Youtube had been in operation for 2 years and infringement of Viacom's content was rampant. Reading some of the emails between Walker, Karim, and Hurley, it was obvious they new infringing content was being uploaded. 512c
    is supposed to give you safe harbor if you are unaware of infringing content. They were aware. It is not as if Youtube was offering to license the material. The licensing agreement wasn't reached until 2008. Using the reasoning of the Grokster, Youtube was not made primarily for infringement purposes however, a reading of the emails makes it clear Youtube founders knew the popularity of the site, in the beginning, would be in large part from infringing content. Why Viacom didn't drop the suit after the licensing agreement? They wanted money from the site their content helped to build. Viacom wasn't trying to kill off innovation,they were trying to get paid for the use of their content.

     

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      That One Guy (profile), Mar 18th, 2014 @ 7:13pm

      Re:

      You might want to do a little more research on this 'case'(more like a string of cases), Viacom was anything but innocent here.

      Relating to your comment about them 'knowing that infringing videos were being uploaded', general knowledge of infringing content being uploaded is not enough to strip a site of it's safe harbor protections, the copyright owner has to file DMCA claims for specific works, they can't just say 'There's infringing stuff on your site, it's your job to find it and take it down.'

      Until a valid DMCA claim has been filed, and the infringing file(s) named, a site doesn't have to do anything, and they certainly aren't forced to proactively monitor what's uploaded.

      This article covers some of Viacoms arguments, and how they were pretty thoroughly demolished by the judge in that case, would probably make for a good read to get some background:

      https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20130418/15061722753/youtube-wins-yet-another-complete- victory-over-viacom-court-mocks-viacoms-ridiculous-legal-theories.shtml

      (Just be careful wading through the comments, AJ was in full-on-crazy mode for that one, Blue as well, though that's hardly surprising given the article)

       

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        Pragmatic, Mar 19th, 2014 @ 7:14am

        Re: Re:

        Besides, Viacom uploaded stuff themselves, then sued over it. Why? Possibly to find out how it would work as advertising for their products.

        Here's a hint: to monetize your content, add advertisements to it and wait for the money to pour in. You can actually have the ad revenue from copies diverted to yourself. Viacom could have opened a channel and done exactly that. Instead they appear to have set up a crude honeypot trap and fallen into it themselves.

        And as I keep on saying, we NEED to LET GO of the "selling copies" business model because it's never been easier to make copies as it is today.

         

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    LAB (profile), Mar 19th, 2014 @ 7:21am

    "Viacom was anything but innocent here."

    I don't claim Viacom's innocence. Their incredibly lazy execution and inaccurate interpretation of the law was what became apparent throughout out the litigation. However, I am sure there were those at Youtube that knew of specific infringement. Viacom just couldn't prove it. That is what I found so interesting.

    "they can't just say 'There's infringing stuff on your site, it's your job to find it and take it down.'

    Absolutely. I think that is why the litigation was so important for everyone especially innovators and copyright holders.

     

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      That One Guy (profile), Mar 19th, 2014 @ 2:05pm

      Re:

      However, I am sure there were those at Youtube that knew of specific infringement. Viacom just couldn't prove it. That is what I found so interesting.

      That could very well be, but without that proof, they have no case. Unless they could prove that the people working at youtube were aware of specific infringing files and took no action, then there's nothing on the books they could use against youtube.

      Absolutely. I think that is why the litigation was so important for everyone especially innovators and copyright holders.

      Not quite sure I get the point you're trying to make here. All the litigation did was reaffirm the fact that general knowledge of infringement isn't enough to strip a site of safe harbor protections, which was already part of the law, so other than wasting millions, or clarifying something already on the books, not much seemed to come out of this string of cases.

       

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