Viacom v. YouTube: District Court Again Dismisses All Copyright Claims Against YouTube

Judge using his gavelOn remand from the Sec­ond Cir­cuit, which had par­tially reversed the dis­trict court’s sum­mary judg­ment dis­miss­ing Viacom’s copy­right infringe­ment claims against YouTube, the dis­trict court has again dis­missed all claims on DMCA safe har­bor grounds.

After Judge Stan­ton first dis­missed Viacom’s case, hold­ing on sum­mary judg­ment that YouTube was shielded by the DMCA safe har­bor, the Sec­ond Cir­cuit reversed and remanded for fur­ther brief­ing due to ques­tions regard­ing, inter alia, whether the record evi­dence estab­lished (1) YouTube’s actual or “red flag” knowl­edge of spe­cific infring­ing activ­ity, (2) will­ful blind­ness to such activ­ity, and (3) whether YouTube had the right and abil­ity to con­trol the infring­ing activity.

On remand, and after fur­ther brief­ing, Judge Stan­ton again granted sum­mary judg­ment on all counts to YouTube.

With respect to YouTube’s knowl­edge of spe­cific infring­ing activ­ity, both par­ties agreed that there was no evi­dence in the record of such knowl­edge and that due to the vol­ume of video con­tent uploaded by users it would be impos­si­ble for YouTube to have evi­dence of its state of knowl­edge with respect to each of the spe­cific video clips.  Via­com argued, how­ever, that (notwith­stand­ing that it was the plain­tiff) YouTube bore the bur­den of prov­ing the neg­a­tive — that it had no knowl­edge of spe­cific infringe­ments and that there­fore the lack of evi­dence should be held against YouTube.  The dis­trict court rejected this argu­ment, stat­ing that Viacom’s pro­posed require­ment that an ISP mon­i­tor each and every item of user gen­er­ated con­tent in order to take advan­tage of the DMCA safe har­bor was “anachro­nis­tic” and would turn the pur­pose and design of the safe har­bor on its head by shift­ing the copy­right own­ers’ polic­ing bur­den onto the ISP.

Turn­ing to will­ful blind­ness, the dis­trict court noted that in order to dis­qual­ify an ISP from the safe har­bor Via­com needed to pro­vide evi­dence of will­ful blind­ness to spe­cific acts of infringe­ment.  The court held that Via­com had failed to meet this bur­den because none of its prof­fered will­ful blind­ness evi­dence indi­cated that YouTube knew the spe­cific loca­tion of the infring­ing con­tent at issue in the case.

Next, with respect to YouTube’s right and abil­ity to con­trol the infring­ing con­duct, the court again held that Via­com had failed to meet its bur­den of proof.  Via­com argued that, inter alia, YouTube’s removal of some, but not all, infring­ing con­tent, its efforts to facil­i­tate searches of the uploaded con­tent, and its enforce­ment of its pro­hi­bi­tion on porno­graphic con­tent, demon­strated suf­fi­cient con­trol over the infring­ing con­tent to place YouTube out­side the scope of the safe har­bor, even with­out knowl­edge of spe­cific infring­ing activ­ity.  Judge Stan­ton rejected this argu­ment, hold­ing that an ISP’s con­trol must be more sub­stan­tial, hold­ing that “[t]here is no evi­dence that YouTube induced its users to sub­mit infring­ing videos, pro­vided users with detailed instruc­tions about what con­tent to upload or edited their con­tent, pre­screened sub­mis­sions for qual­ity, steered users to infring­ing videos, or oth­er­wise inter­acted with infring­ing users to the point where it might be said to have par­tic­i­pated in their infring­ing activity.”

All in all, this deci­sion is another resound­ing vic­tory for YouTube but is cer­tainly des­tined for another appeal.

Here is the decision:

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