YouTube Lawsuits: A Roundup

YouTube’s been sued so many times, it’s hard to keep track.

Viacom’s $1 billion lawsuit against the video-sharing site is being watched closely in the U.S., but other copyright litigants are springing up abroad as well. In the past two months alone, YouTube’s been sued in France, Spain and Italy for allegedly hosting copyrighted materials.

Here at home, the lawsuits challenge the DMCA’s safe harbor protections, which state that service providers cannot (with a few qualifications) be held liable for the content that users upload. But the EU doesn’t enforce a DMCA-like law, leaving several powerful media companies and collective licensing agencies to continually pressure YouTube to respect copyrights. YouTube has come to agreements with some of the agencies, e.g., Germany’s GEMA, but those with media companies have proved more elusive.

Below are some of the larger lawsuits alleging that YouTube violates copyrights. Also included are a few early, well-publicized lawsuits that have since been abandoned or rolled up into larger ones.

Mediaset v. Google/YouTube

The Italian television company, owned by prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, is seeking $779 million in damages after finding what it claims were 4,643 copyrighted videos on YouTube. MediaSet alleges the clips constitute the equivalent of 315,672 broadcasting days. The lawsuit comes on the heels of news that Italy is about to charge four Google execs for failing to adequately monitor uploads on Google Video. Google is also currently facing copyright lawsuits in Spain and France.

Viacom v. YouTube

Alleging a now infamous $1 billion in damages, the lawsuit launched a direct assault against the DMCA’s safe harbor protections. As part of the case’s discovery process, the court last month issued an order saying YouTube must disclose all videos ever removed from the site, plus the database records disclosing every video ever watched, including which username and IP address watched said videos. Viacom hopes the former will demonstrate the sheer amount of infringing videos hosted on YouTube over the years, while the latter will demonstrate how often those videos were viewed. However, YouTube was not compelled to release copies of every video ever uploaded to a private account — accounts which Viacom originally argued were potential honeypots of infringing activity. The case is not expected to continue for several years.

The Football Association Premier League Limited et al v. Youtube, Inc. et al

The Premier League’s lawsuit differs from Viacom’s in that Premier claims it tried to use YouTube’s anti-piracy tools and they didn’t work. Since filing, Premier has been joined in the lawsuit by the Rugby Football League, the Finnish Football League, the Federation Francaise de Tennis, the National Music Publishers Association (NMPA), Knockout Entertainment Limited, Robert Tur (see below), Seminole Warriors Boxing and Ligue de Football Professionnel. Premier’s lawsuit is now on the same track as Viacom’s, and on July 2nd the judge issued an identical ruling barring disclosure of YouTube’s source code but allowing the disclosure of data from the logging database.

New Jersey Turnpike Authority v. YouTube

The Jersey Turnpike’s lawsuit concerns a single video, taped via a highway security cam, showing a speeding car crashing into a toll booth. The driver of the car died, and the video subsequently found its way onto YouTube. Soon after filing, the Turnpike Authority asked the court to dismiss the case. The NJTA’s property was certainly stolen but YouTube is not, under the DMCA, liable for the illicit actions of its users. Once YouTube responded to the NJTA’s takedown request, it fulfilled its legal obligation.

  • Filed: May 22nd, 2007
  • Court: NJ District
  • Accusation: Copyright infringement
  • Further Reading: CNET: NJTA sues YouTube

David Grisman v. YouTube

An erstwhile bandmate of Jerry Garcia, Grisman sought a class-action lawsuit against YouTube in spring 2007. Grisman’s attorneys requested voluntary dismissal, though no reason was given in the court documents.

Tur v. YouTube

Tur, an LA-based video journalist, sued YouTube for $150,000 in 2006 after he discovered that videos he took of Reginald Denny’s beating were available on the site. Although he was the first person to sue YouTube for copyright infringement, his case never progressed far, and he eventually sought voluntary dismissal to join the English Premier League suit.