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Second Circuit grants class action against YouTube

By Michael P. Tremoglie | Apr 10, 2012


The U.S. District Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit on Thursday reversed a 2010 district court ruling. The suit was brought by Viacom, Paramount Pictures, Football Association Premier League and other media and sports entities.

The plaintiffs alleged that YouTube broadcasts tens of thousands of copyrighted videos on its website. The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York held that YouTube was entitled to safe harbor protection because of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

The court said YouTube did not have sufficient notice of the particular infringements in suit. The DCMA limits the liability of online providers for copyright infringement by their users.

Viacom filed suit against YouTube on March 13, 2007. It alleged direct and indirect copyright infringement. The Premier League, an English soccer league, and the Bourne Co. filed a putative class action against YouTube on May 4, 2007, making the same allegations on behalf of all copyright owners whose material was copied, stored, displayed, or performed on YouTube without authorization. They specified 63,497 video clips identified by Viacom, as well as 13,500 additional clips identified by the putative class plaintiffs.

The appeals court said that it considered, "the first and most important question on appeal is whether the DMCA safe harbor at issue requires 'actual knowledge' or 'aware(ness)' of facts or circumstances indicating 'specific and identifiable infringements.'"

The court vacated the summary judgment in favor of YouTube because, "a reasonable jury could conclude that YouTube had knowledge or awareness... at least with respect to a handful of specific clips."

It also said the district court, "erred by requiring 'item-specific' knowledge of infringement in its interpretation of the 'right and ability to control' infringing activity under 17 U.S.C. § 512(c)(1)(B).

The judgment was reversed because of the "erroneous construction of the statute" and the case was remanded "for further fact-finding by the District Court on the issues of control and financial benefit."

"For a long time, these things like YouTube argued that they are like a bulletin board in the grocery store. People just post things to it and they have no knowledge of what it is," said Ronald Rotunda, law professor at Chapman University School of Law in Orange, Calif. "But YouTube is making money. There is an obligation not to aid and abet in the infringement of copyright. So I think the Second Circuit made the right decision."

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