Google wins big in Viacom vs. YouTube ruling

After three years of legal wrangling, Google has emerged victorious in a $1 billion Viacom lawsuit claiming the video site knowingly profited from copyright infringement.  ThoughViacom has promised to appeal, the decision is a huge win for Internet Service Providers and a setback for media content providers.

Interestingly, the case revealed that YouTube’s execs welcomed copyright infringement internally in the early days even while they were prepared to fight it.  In employee emails submitted to the court, YouTubers lamented that site traffic could nosedive if users followed the site’s policy of only uploading user generated material.

Google owes its victory to a shelter clause in the Digital Millenium Copyright Act which requires ISPs to police infringement only by responding to specific claims  from copyright holders. The sound logic behind this is that an ISP like YouTube can’t be expected to scan every upload for possible infringement.or accurately identify all infringing content.

After Google purchased YouTube, the company implemented a more comprehensive system allowing copyright holders to quickly flag illegal uploads.  It is has also gone to great lengths forging partnerships with media companies to ensure premium content remains a vital part of the site. Viacom in fact has no qualm with YouTube’s current practices; they only maintain the company never would have been worth the billions it was sold to Google for if not for the inclusion of copyrighted material from Viacom and other media corporations. They raise a valid point.

On a practical level, the court ruling is a green light for YouTube to let loose on advertising guidelines. While lawsuits ensued, the company played it safe by pairing banner ads with partner content.  Now YouTube should feel at ease putting ads beside any and all content.

That said, it’s noteworthy that the digital Millenium Copyright Act has loopholes that allowed YouTube’s founders to bank on copyright infringement to build its brand without repercussions.  Last week’s ruling does follow the letter of the law as it stands, but it would be just for the government to close some of those loopholes in the near future.