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Viacom and Google finally settle long running copyright lawsuit against YouTube

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A benchmark case for legal liability when users upload copyrighted content to a public web service

Google and Viacom jointly announced today that they have agreed to settle a seven year old lawsuit in which Viacom accused YouTube of allowing its users to upload copyrighted content like films and television shows. YouTube had twice before won in court after Viacom failed to prove it had knowledge of what its users were uploading. Judge Louis Stanton declared back in April of 2013 that, "The burden of showing that YouTube knew or was aware of the specific infringements of the works in suit cannot be shifted to YouTube to disprove."

Viacom and YouTube have slowly evolved from enemies to business partners

The case revolves around the Digital Millenium Copyright Act and its "Safe Harbor" provision. That law gives YouTube protection from copyright claims so long as they take down the offending content quickly after being made aware of it. Viacom had a lot of trouble proving out its case. It initially listed as offending content 100 videos which its own employees had uploaded to YouTube. It later dropped another 187 videos from the lawsuit, a sign of confusion which weakened its claim that YouTube should have been able to easily able to identify and remove offending clips.

Viacom and YouTube have slowly evolved from enemies to business partners, with the media giant posting clips from many of its networks online. Viacom is also a syndication partner with Vevo, for which YouTube is the principle driver of traffic. The joint announcement stated that, "This settlement reflects the growing collaborative dialogue between our two companies on important opportunities, and we look forward to working more closely together."

No terms of the settlement were shared, but according to a source familiar with the details no money exchanged hands. That's probably the clearest indication that what began as a $1 billion lawsuit  is now largely water under the bridge, with YouTube and Google walking away the clear winner.