Courts Favoring ISPs in Copyright Infringement Battles – The Shifting Tide

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The latest wave in the ebb and flow of decisions involving the battle over online copyright infringement made a tidal shift in favor of Internet service providers (ISPs). The recent Viacom v. YouTube, No. 07-02103 (S.D. N.Y July 2, 2008) litigation, in which the court further defined what is acceptable behavior by "user-generated content" sites toward copyrighted works, gave the video-sharing site the win and left Viacom feeling a little soaked.

The ruling on June 23 by a federal district judge in the Southern District of New York is the latest in a trend of one-sided interpretations of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) in favor of ISPs. Congress enacted the DMCA to update copyright law for the digital age and balance copyright protection with the operations of ISPs. Although Viacom will appeal, and therefore the case is far from over, the ruling has the potential to influence other courts and the behavior of ISPs.

Three years ago, Viacom, a media conglomerate that owns MTV and Comedy Central, sued YouTube (which is now owned by Google) for $1 billion based on copyright infringement claims for unauthorized posting of Viacom copyrighted material.

The court, in granting YouTube's motion for summary judgment, ruled that YouTube, Inc. is not liable for direct or secondary copyright infringement due to its hosting of infringing content posted by users of the wildly popular website. The court ruled that YouTube's general knowledge that a substantial portion of the posted videos infringed copyright was insufficient to impose liability, and that its prompt take-down of specific infringing material of which it was notified entitled it to the DMCA's "safe harbor" for ISPs.

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