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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.

14 Responses to “YouTube Lawsuits: A Roundup”

  1. mporgsoft

    Anyone who wants to start a website cloning youtube should read this article. Why would you want the headache and cost of defending against so many lawsuits to make a quick buck.

  2. I for one have already cancelled my sky subscription. If you all felt strong enough about sky charging too much for sport and stealing the national game from the people you would do the same.

    As for youtube and the premier league. Surely once a match has been shown it is in the public domain anyway, and millions of people would have already recorded games at home on their dvd or even on skys own recording equipment! So whats the problem with youtube allowing downloads of already recorded material? I don’t see it!

  3. At some point YoutTube may want to consider blocking certain countries from accessing the site. This could easily be done through a CDN provider or a software like Quova.

    When a user in Turkey for example goes to they will see a page asking them to campaign their elected officials to enact a law similar to DMCA. This could be a chance for a large U.S. company to have a positive impact on global Internet regulations. Or at least can help YouTube from facing lawsuits from all over the world.


  4. Thanks, Steve!

    It is about time that his issue be presented to the average Internet user objectively and fairly.

    “Yes”, Mark Cuban made mention of this shortly after the YouTube acquistion was made public. He is different than most, but I believe he is very sound in much of his reasoning. He is a very smart young man.

    The problem goes FAR beyond the borders of YouTube, however. I have been writing about the Google involvement with willful Internet piracy operations for several years now. Like many other large public companies, the Googlites have escaped under the Bush Administration’s non-existent business and compliance radar screens.

    All of this is about to change, however. Thank goodness. Let’s just hope it’s not too late for the U.S. to regain any lead we once had as the copyright and property protectors of the free world.

    Here’s an article I wrote recently on this important subject. It is a bit long, but some of your readers may enjoy it.

    “Keep spreading the news …”


    Ding dong … the witch is dead!

    … or at least she is starting to melt!

    Wow … I would say this is very good news for the entire copyright industry. While potentially inconvenient to YouTube viewers, and understanding the importance of privacy protection in the complex world of the Internet these days, this decision by the judge in the Viacom v. Google/YouTube case in New York may be the best thing that has happened to the copyright industries in this country, and to our overall economy, in practically a decade.

    I have been following this infringment case, and others like it, now for several years. I, for one, am sick and tired of the Google’s of the world blaming their own customers for all of the infringing activity that occurs day in and day out over the Google sponsored networks. Who do you think gains the most financially from these obvious infringements – Google or the poor smuck in Louisville who does not have a clue what is right or wrong, let alone what is infringing and what is not?

    In fact, if it is true that an individual typically adapts his or her production and viewing habits from what they see and are taught by the larger media, entertainment, Fortune 500, and technology companies in this country (“if this weren’t legal, certainly mighty Google wouldn’t encourage it as they do or run AdSense ads on the infringing sites, and Exxon/Mobile wouldn’t be placing ads on the sites that are displaying the “shared” works, either”) then who do we really have to blame for this chaos? You guessed it.

    It is an unfortunate reality today that many of the copyright defense lawyers, and their publicly financed clients out to make the big bucks regardless of the rules, have made a mockery of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (the DMCA), which was signed into law in 1998 by President Clinton. Like the music industry has learned in the school of hard knocks (aka “the real world”), it is virtually impossible today to hold the middlemen in these unlawful Internet distribution channels and networks accountable. So, what do the copyright companies have to do to protect their valuable property? Go directly after the often innocent “end users” who are often sucked into this game, more often unknowingly than not. It is shameful.

    Perhaps this New York court decision will help to turn those tides.

    Google enables widespread copyright infringement activity like no other company on this planet. Google subsidizes entire networks of infringers through it Adwords and AdSense marketing and advertising programs. Google facilitates willful copyright infringement. Google enables widespread copyright infringement. Day in and day out. Google causes enormous damages to legitimate copyright holders every second of every single day. Google has been doing this for years. They earn a substantial portion of their overall revenue and profits by sponsoring illegal activities over the Internet. And their operations outside the U.S. are far more egregious than the infringement activity we see referenced in this Viacom case, which is largely within our borders.

    I, for one, have had enough. Baseless, if not ludicrous, excuses and piracy defense strategies, implemented by what used to be some of the finest copyright law firms in this country – “fair use”, “safe harbor”, “no harm”, “unclean hands”, “de minimus damage”, “copyright misuse”, “DMCA safeguards”, “willful blindness”, “laches”, and on and on, can drag these cases on for years – haven’t we seen it all?

    What do the legal terms all mean in Google’s true vernacular? How about this. “We are big. We are powerful. We can do anything we damn well please. Quit complaining, copyright owners, or we’ll cut you off from all the online revenues streams, as well”. Better yet, “… if you don’t conform, we’ll simply run some of this stuff from our operations in Brazil , Russia , India , and China (those BRICS have plenty of money), and let them beam the content back here to the states.”

    Aren’t you tired of watching Google hide behind the skirt-tails of their customers. “They were the ones who loaded the illegal videos onto our system, not us.” Or , better yet, “how were we to know that Bart Simpson and the Spice Girls weren’t already in the ‘Public Domain’?”

    Is Google alone in this? Unfortunately, the answer is no. Microsoft, AOL, Yahoo, and others are moving as fast as they can to mimic and duplicate Google’s cash cow system, whether the law is violated or not. Cash is the king. And copyrights from the creative industries are not the only victims. Haven’t you seen lately, similar claims (and penalties) levied against these giant Internet companies for their advertising efforts to support, or even subsidize in many cases, the distribution of harmful pharmaceutical drugs and counterfeits over the Internet, sponsor illegal gambling and pornography web sites, and many others too numerous to mention. Billions and billions and billions of dollars every single month.

    “What do you expect us to do, your honor. Try out every single drug our customers illegally deliver just because we provide the advertising revenues for them to survive?”

    This kind of unlawful activity not only helps to destroy our economy, it breaks down the moral fiber of our society. What makes you think this young generation that has grown up witnessing these wide scale unlawful activities delivered to them (usually “free of charge”) via the Internet, will be able to draw a distinction between the virtual world and the physical world where STEALING is concerned as they get older and have to put food on a table full of their own babies and elderly parents? The jury is still out on that one.

    I applaud the nerve, and the intelligence, of the judge up there in New York who presides over this case between Google and Viacom. Maybe your recent ruling will cause all of these Internet parasites to wake up and see the error of their ways before it is too late for all of us.

    As a pleasant footnote to copyright holders. Do you think the judge would have allowed the complete user logs of YouTube to be released in this case if the outcome of this case was not leaning in Viacom’s direction? I certainly do not. This may, indeed, be one of the most important weeks in the history of protecting the original works of copyright owners in this country … one of the few absolute rights that was guaranteed to all of us in our Constitution over 200 years ago.

    Congratulations New York . Congratulations copyright holders. It must feel good to know you have some judges up that way have your best interests at heart in enforcing our critically important (and “endangered”) copyright laws and maintaining the delicate balance between managing and policing unbridled growth (i.e. “growth at ANY cost”) over the Internet and maintaining our vital and long standing ethical, moral, and legal business practices going forward, while looking out for your best interests.

    … which old witch … the wicked witch!

    George P. Riddick, III
    Imageline, Inc.

    [email protected]