Judge Sides With YouTube In Copyright Suit

A federal judge has ruled in favor of YouTube in a lawsuit brought by Viacom, which owns Paramount Pictures, Comedy Central and many other entertainment brands. Viacom claimed that YouTube was profiting from work it had copyrighted. Robert Siegel talks to NPR's Laura Sydell about the case.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. Im Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And Im Robert Siegel.

A federal judge has sided with YouTube against Viacom. Viacom owns Comedy Central, MTV, Paramount Pictures, and many other entertainment brands. And it brought a billion-dollar lawsuit against YouTube for having illegal copies of its videos up on the site. The judge dismissed the case today. YouTube is owned by Google.

NPRs Laura Sydell has been following this story. And Laura, the law in question here is the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. What does it say about copyrighted video?

LAURA SYDELL: Well, the DMCA, it recognizes the rights of copyright holders -like Viacom, for example. But what it says is that when you have a site - say, like Google or YouTube - you dont have a responsibility to go out and find every copyright violation on your site. Its the responsibility of Viacom to come to you and say, hey, youve got a clip up there of the Daily Show, and thats our show, and we want you to take it down.

Once you say that, the law says, OK, YouTube, you have to take it down now. So thats basically what the law says.

And just a little background here. In 1998, when it was passed, think of the technology. If you had forced YouTube to take down every copyrighted video, that wouldve been crazy. How could they have even done that? So thats why the law was written this way.

SIEGEL: Thats what the law says. What did the judge say in his ruling today?

SYDELL: Well, the judge said, thats what the law says. The judge said basically, that Viacom look, YouTube is doing everything this law says they have to do. Viacom was trying to say, look, YouTube shouldve known that all over their website was copyrighted material, that people were putting up shows from "Comedy Central," they were people were putting these things up.

But you know what, the law doesnt put that responsibility on YouTube, and the judge said thats the case here. And pretty much every court has ruled that way, in cases like this.

SIEGEL: Laura, a lot of other entertainment companies have made deals with YouTube in recent years, to put their music or their videos up on the site - in effect, joining YouTube instead of fighting it, you might say. Why hasnt Viacom cut a deal like that?

SYDELL: Thats a good question. I guess on the one hand, I think they thought they might actually win this lawsuit. And in the hope that if they won it and even by bringing it, it put them in a position where they could bargain harder with YouTube to get a better deal from them, get more money from them.

So I think that may be why they continued on, even though other companies sort of said, well, you know what, I think YouTube could be to our advantage, so well just make a deal with them. Viacom said, I think we could do better, so were going to stay in the courts and fight.

SIEGEL: And Viacom says it will stay in the courts and appeal. If the Digital Millennium Copyright Act is as clear in saying that YouTube was in the right as the judge said it was, why would Viacom want to continue?

SYDELL: Well, there is, of course, the off chance that on appeal, they could win. Right now, all the experts Ive talked to dont see it. But I think a lot of people are saying, what this is really about is politics. A lot of companies, including Viacom, dont like the Digital Millennium Copyright Act because in fact, it is up to them to look for places where their copyright is being violated. And they want to change the law.

There is some sense that the Obama administration has an interest in this and -particularly, Vice President Biden has shown a lot of sympathy to Hollywood. So I think theyre hoping that maybe Congress will go back and change the law so that theyre not so much worried about YouTube, really, but its the next start-up, right? Its some small company that comes along. They want to be in a position to bargain, and they want to be in a position where they can really make more money off their video. They want control.

I mean, this been an issue from the get-go. Theres sort of a war between Hollywood and the folks up north in Silicon Valley, over these issues.

SIEGEL: OK, Laura, thank you.

SYDELL: Youre welcome.

SIEGEL: Thats NPRs Laura Sydell, reporting from San Francisco on the news today that a federal judge has dismissed Viacoms suit against YouTube.

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