Viacom, Google take down YouTube lawsuit

Google and Viacom announced today they have settled their long-running litigation over TV clips posted to YouTube by users.

The lawsuit, which began in 2007, before YouTube was acquired by Google, had been a landmark in the development of case law around the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and had produced a number of important rulings over the years, most of them going YouTube’s way. The most recent came in April 2013, when U.S.  District Court Judge Louis Stanton for the second time threw out Viacom’s copyright infringement charges, ruling that YouTube lacked the “red flag” knowledge of infringement needed to establish liability under the DMCA.

Even as the lawsuit dragged on, however, it’s practical (if not legal) outcome was growing increasingly moot. YouTube had implemented its Content ID system, which provides content owners a way to automatically block or monetize the use of their content in clips posted by users by inserting ads. Viacom has also launched its own approved YouTube channels to promote shows on MTV and Comedy Central.

The parties provided no details of the settlement, such as whether money is changing hands (Re/Code is reporting it is not). But it comes a week before the companies were scheduled to appear in court regarding Viacom’s appeal of Judge Stanton’s last ruling.

Perhaps more pertinently, the settlement comes two days before the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office and the National Telecommunications Information Administration, both part of the Commerce Department, are scheduled to convene a meeting among stakeholders on improving the notice-and-takedown process at the heart of many DMCA disputes.

According to the agencies, the goal of the meeting, which is being watched carefully on Capitol Hill, is to “identify best practices and/or produce voluntary agreements for improving the operation of the DMCA notice and takedown system.” Participants in the meeting include “a wide variety of the notice and takedown system’s current users, including right holders and individual creators, service providers, and any other stakeholders that are directly affected – such as consumer and public interest representatives, technical and engineering experts, and companies in the business of identifying infringing content.”

The pending litigation would have made it awkward for Google and Viacom to speak openly as part of the Commerce Department forum so long as the other party was also participating. Viacom may be betting it will have better luck with regulators than it has had so far in court and wants to be sure it has a full seat at the table.