Today’s Biggest Winner Is the DMCA


Judge Luis L. Stanton must have know that his ruling in favor of YouTube (s GOOG) today will open up a whole new can of worms. Not only has Viacom (s VIA) already announced that it’s going to appeal the summary judgment, which abruptly ended the company’s attempts to get a billion dollars in damages from YouTube, but there’s also going to be numerous calls for overhauling the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) — the 1998 law that was at the core of YouTube’s defense, and which eventually helped it to claim victory in court.

With that in mind, Stanton ended up writing a decision meant to be read not only by lawyers, but by politicians as well. He quoted at length from two reports authored by the Senate Committee on the Judicary and the House Committee on Commerce on the DMCA, essentially telling the political class: It’s no accident that the DMCA resulted in these kinds of rulings. You wanted it this way, and you had good reasons for it.

And with that, the ruling became a defense of the DMCA itself — a law that has been described as outdated and in need of an overhaul, that has to a degree lost relevance as sites like YouTube and Ustream embrace more advanced filtering solutions, that hasn’t helped a number of file sharing companies to defend their technology against copyright infringement lawsuits, but that, at the same time, has been fundamental in enabling many online video and online publishing innovations.

Here are some of the most important points of the ruling:

  • General knowledge of infringement isn’t enough to punish a company like YouTube. The operators have to have actual knowledge about infringement related to the works in question, and fail to do anything about it. “That is consistent with an area of the law devoted to protection of distinctive individual works, not of libraries”, Stanton wrote.
  • DMCA take-down notices work, and it pays to take down right away. From the decision: “(W)hen Viacom over a period of months accumulated some 100,000 videos and then sent one mass take-down notice on February 2, 2007, by the next business day YouTube had removed virtually all of them.”
  • Copyright filters are nice, but they’re not required by law: “General knowledge that infringement is ‘ubiquitous’ does not impose a duty on the service provider to monitor or search its service for infringements.”
  • Mo’ money, same problems: The fact that YouTube made money with advertising against infringing videos doesn’t change the fact that it is protected by the DMCA as long as it takes down these videos when prompted to do so.
  • YouTube is not gonna do your work for you. DMCA notices have to be specific and include the locations of each infringing video.

It’s also worth noting that the ruling makes numerous references to Veoh’s victory over Universal. Together, those two decisions could prove to be important precedents protecting online video ventures from copyright liability claims.

Picture courtesy of Flickr user rafaelmarquez.

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

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