Google/YouTube Find Shelter in DMCA Safe Harbor Provisions

Originally published on June 25, 2010 on

In March 2007, Viacom (owner of MTV, VH-1, Nickelodeon, Paramount Pictures and numerous other media properties) sued YouTube and its parent company Google seeking an injunction and $1  billion in damages for direct copyright infringement, contributory infringement, inducement, and vicarious liability for permitting users to upload various copyrighted works of Viacom without its authorization.

Google defended the case on the grounds that it is shielded from liability under the safe harbor provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), 17 U.S.C. § 512, which, generally speaking, exempt online service providers from liability for copyright infringement, provided that they comply with certain statutory requirements. One condition for the exemption is that the service provider must not have actual knowledge of the infringing material. I’m glossing over quite a bit here, but that’s the general idea.

Google moved for summary judgment on all of Viacom’s claims. On June 23, Judge Louis Stanton of the Southern District of New York granted Google’s motion, finding that although Google had a “general awareness” that there was infringing material on YouTube, it did not have “knowledge of specific and identifiable infringements of particular individual items,” except when it was notified pursuant to the DMCA take down procedures and, in those instance, YouTube followed the statutory mandates.