What Viacom's loss to YouTube means for Hollywood

Thu Jun 24, 2010 12:48am EDT
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By Matthew Belloni

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - The Google geeks have beaten Hollywood chic. But how much will Wednesday's court ruling against Viacom in its $1 billion copyright battle over YouTube tip the balance of power from professional content creators to online distributors?

In ruling on summary judgment that the Google-owned video-sharing site is protected from liability by a safe-harbor provision in copyright law, U.S. District Court Judge Louis Stanton has sent a clear message:

If user-generated video sites implement reasonable takedown procedures, they are shielded from infringement lawsuits based on the content that users upload.

"If a service provider knows of specific instances of infringement, the provider must promptly remove the infringing material," Stanton wrote in the opinion. "If not, the burden is on the owner to identify the infringement."

The digital community has heralded the decision as a win for consumers against over-reaching content conglomerates.

"Studios have a tremendous tool in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) that allows them to send a notice and get the relief they desire," said Kurt Opsahl of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital-rights advocacy group that backed Google in the case. "Whether you are Viacom or a small rights-holder, that tool remains available."

Several Hollywood studios filed briefs in support of Viacom in the massive litigation, initially filed in New York in 2007. Viacom general counsel Michael Fricklas called the decision a disappointment, and vowed to appeal.

"YouTube and Google stole hundreds of thousands of video clips from artists and content creators, including Viacom, building a substantial business that was sold for billions of dollars," Fricklas said in a statement. "We believe that should not be allowed by law or common sense."   Continued...