NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- In a setback to content companies struggling to protect copyrighted material in the digital age, Viacom lost its copyright infringement case against Google today. The media conglomerate -- whose properties include MTV, BET and Paramount Pictures -- had accused the search giant of widespread copyright violations on its YouTube property, estimating damages at $1 billion.
Google had argued that its YouTube division was allowed protection under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act's "safe harbor" provision, which says a service provider isn't liable for violating copyright so long as it responds to specific complaints. That reading puts the burden of rooting out copyright violations on copyright holders themselves.
The three-year-old case came to a close Wednesday as U.S. District Court Judge Louis Stanton issued a summary judgment favoring Google's position.
"Defendants designated an agent, and when they received specific notice that a particular item infringed copyright, they swiftly removed it," the ruling says. "It is uncontroverted that all the clips in suit are off the YouTube website, most having been removed in response to DMCA takedown notices."
Viacom plans to appeal the judgment. "We believe that this ruling by the lower court is fundamentally flawed and contrary to the language of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, the intent of Congress, and the views of the Supreme Court as expressed in its most recent decisions," Viacom VP-Communications Jeremy Zweig said in a statement. "After years of delay, this decision gives us the opportunity to have the Appellate Court address these critical issues on an accelerated basis. We look forward to the next stage of the process."
The long-running case was fraught with allegations of seemingly dirty tactics. Documents in the case that were unsealed this past March reveal claims from both sides that each was aware of the copyright stakes. YouTube claimed Viacom hired promotional companies to seed videos on the site under aliases to make it look as if they had been leaked onto the internet. For its part, Viacom claimed the video-uploading service was intentionally looking to benefit monetarily from copyrighted content.
YouTube, which Google bought in 2006 for $1.65 billion, issued a statement on its blog today via its general counsel Kent Walker: "This is an important victory not just for us, but also for the billions of people around the world who use the web to communicate and share experiences with each other."