As many Texas residents know, legal proceedings involving major businesses can be very complex. This is the case for an ongoing lawsuit between YouTube and Viacom, which has lasted around five years. This type of business litigation involves very technical aspects of copyright law.
In recent news, a federal appeals court has revived Viacom's copyright proceeding against YouTube. In this process, the federal court indicated that a jury could potentially conclude that YouTube may have known it was infringing rights when it permitted the sharing of television programs on its site. This finding has sent an issue of the case back to the district court.
In this proceeding, Viacom argued that YouTube committed "rampant copyright infringement." Initially, a lower court had ruled that YouTube was protected from copyright infringement claims by the safe harbor provision of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. This provision protects a company from legal responsibility if it does not have actual knowledge of the alleged copyright infringement.
However, at the appeals level, Viacom showed that YouTube employees had conducted website surveys estimating that approximately 80 percent of all YouTube videos contained copyright material. Also, Viacom demonstrated that financial advisors from the YouTube side had previously estimated that only one-tenth of the material was authorized.
Ultimately, the evidence suggests that YouTube may have knowingly delayed taking down copyrighted material. As a result, the intermediate court found that a doctrine known as "willful blindness" could potentially be applicable in the case.
Under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, this doctrine would be relevant if the company's executives made a "deliberate effort to avoid guilty knowledge." For this reason, the appeals court has sent the case back to the lower court for a determination of whether the legal concept applies.
Viacom is not the only company that has sued YouTube over copyright matters. Nevertheless, this pending suit with Viacom is worth one billion dollars. As a result, there is no doubt that YouTube has retained a strong business litigation team that is well versed in copyright law.
Source: Mercury News, "Viacom's $1B YouTube lawsuit revived by appeals court," Larry Neumeister, April 6, 2012