Google and Viacom have announced a settlement to end their lingering billion dollar copyright litigation over unlicensed videos on YouTube. Details of the settlement were not released, although the sides confirmed there was no monetary component for either side.
While the settlement does not directly affect the book business, copyright experts have seen the case as a test of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act's "safe harbor" provision, which can shield Internet service providers from liability for the infringing behavior of its users—including those who might post unauthorized portions or entire books online.
The case had addressed a key question for the digital age: should networks be responsible for proactively guarding against infringement on their sites, or must rights holders be forced to send DMCA takedown notices in "whack-a-mole" fashion to stop unauthorized uses?
The suit dates back to March, 2007, when Viacom sued Google for $1 billion, alleging massive copyright infringement on YouTube. In filings, Viacom accused YouTube and Google of building a business on material the company knew to be infringing, and disputed Google's claim to be a "safe harbor" under the DMCA.
But Google argued for protection under the "safe harbor" provision, arguing that unlicensed copyrighted content is not necessarily unauthorized content, and that Google has no way of judging which content is infringing until a copyright holder steps forward. To bolster its argument, Google presented evidence that Viacom employees were actually uploading clips to YouTube.
In June of 2010, Judge Louis Stanton held for Google, granting summary judgment, and even praised Google for its handling of infringement complaints.
"The present case shows that the DMCA notification regime works," Stanton wrote. "When Viacom over a period of months accumulated some 100,000 videos and then sent one mass takedown notice on February 2, 2007, by the next business day YouTube had removed virtually all of them." In finding for Google, Stanton held that Google was not required to police YouTube for potentially infringing content, as long as it promptly handled complaints from rightsholders.
But in April of 2012, an Appeals Court reversed, and remanded the case to Stanton for trial, holding that “a reasonable jury could find that YouTube had actual knowledge or awareness of specific infringing activity on its website.” The case had been set for oral argument next week.
In a joint statement, Google and Viacom said the settlement “reflects the growing collaborative dialogue” between our the two companies and “look forward to working more closely together."