Hollywood Backs Viacom in YouTube Case

A group of Hollywood studios have thrown their support behind Viacom (s VIA) in its lawsuit against YouTube (s GOOG). The group, which includes industry organizations ASCAP and SESAC, as well as studios Walt Disney (s DIS), NBC Universal (s GE) and Warner Bros. (s TWX), has filed an amicus brief that argues against YouTube’s defense in the long-running copyright infringement case.

The brief argues that the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) was designed to protect copyright holders, not service providers that might help infringe on copyrighted material. Furthermore, it allages that if YouTube is found to be protected by the safe harbor provision of the DMCA, the case could establish a precedent “that would encourage enterprises to rely on infringing copyrighted content to attract traffic and build up a user base in order to create value for their sites.”

The filing also seeks to establish what types of service providers should be protected by the DMCA. It argues that there is a “crucial distinction” between the likes of telephone companies and other service providers that might unknowingly help users distribute copyrighted content and those that seek to profit off user activity that makes such content available online. The brief says that in crafting the DMCA, “Congress focused on immunizing service providers against claims of infringement predicated on passive, neutral technological services,” and argues that the safe harbor provisions should not apply to a defendant that “knowingly facilitates use of its site as a haven for infringing content,” as Viacom argues YouTube did.

At stake is whether companies that knowingly have infringing content on their sites should be allowed to continue to operate, so long as they comply with takedown notices. If the court were to rule that YouTube is not liable for the action of its users, the brief argues, “then Congress’s careful work will have been undone and the DMCA safe harbors will be transformed into a license to commit piracy.”

Photo of Hollywood sign courtesy of Flickr user Sörn.

Related content on GigaOM Pro: Why Viacom’s Fight With YouTube Threatens Web Innovation (subscription required)