New York federal judge Louis Stanton ruled that Google's YouTube did not violate Viacom's copyrights. It was a technical decision based on the Digital Millenium Copyright Act's safe harbor provision for service providers. To wit, service providers such as YouTube are not liable for the actions of their users as long as they follow certain rules, such as promptly removing copyright-infringing material in response to complaints filed by the copyright holders.
I'm not a legal expert, so I don't claim to know whether the problem is with the Digital Millenium Copyright Act or the judge's interpretation. But there is a problem here, because the ruling clearly favors those who provide a platform for displaying copyrighted videos without permission over those who produce video content for compensation.
I strongly suspect that Google's ultimate goal is to profit from others' copyrighted material by selling more advertising, and the way they are pursuing that goal is extremely clever. By slowly enlarging the scope of permissible copyright violations, Google is putting tremendous pressure on content publishers to cut a deal. It's revealing that judge Stanton said in his decision that YouTube and Google "not only were generally aware of, but welcomed, copyright-infringing material being placed on their website."
Here is the dilemma: digital technology and the Web make it easy to copy and redistribute content. Some activists argue that traditional copyright rules are obsolete and threaten the Web's ongoing success. Copyright holders fear that they will not receive fair compensation for their creative works because they will no longer be able to maintain exclusive control over those works.
The problem with the ruling is that it places too much of the enforcement burden on copyright holders in a game they can't possibly win over the long term. Should everyone who produces videos and films be forced to hire full-time people to monitor the Web and file complaints every time one of their copyright-protected videos is posted? Even if the service provider promptly removes the material, considerable damage can be done in a short period, and the material can always be reposted. And if it's OK to host copyrighted material without permission for 2 days, on what principle would it be wrong to extend that to 2 weeks?
The other extreme would be to place too great of a burden on service providers. For example, asking Internet service providers (ISPs) to inspect all of their traffic and block uploads before they are completed is clearly unworkable. It also wouldn't make sense to treat a Website that hosts user-uploaded videos the same as a site that knowingly distributes pirated material--as long as the user-uploaded video Website takes reasonable precautions to block and remove pirated material.
My understanding is that Viacom wants YouTube to make a reasonable effort to detect and block copyrighted material before it is posted. That makes sense to me, because it says that a Website that hosts user-uploaded videos should at least share the burden of identifying copyright-infringing videos. To say YouTube only has to remove copyright infringing material after it has been posted is tantamount to saying that it's perfectly OK to ignore copyrights until the owner complains.
Gazing into my crystal ball, I see weekends filled with stolen content uploaded on Fridays.
UPDATE: Scott Cleland explains why Judge Stanton's ruling is likely to be overturned.
The napster decision, as well as numerous other decision regarding plain old folks who do this should have informed the judges decision. I would take this one all the way to the Supreme Court. Viacom ought to win this one. It shoudl have never gone this way to begin with. One's own works, whether it be words, music, art or science, manufactured goods or patents are clearly protected under numerous US laws.