Viacom, the owner of popular cable channels such as MTV, Comedy Central, and Nickelodeon, called Stanton’s decision “fundamentally flawed” and vowed to appeal. That virtually ensures a legal brawl that already has dragged on for more than three years will spill into 2011 and perhaps beyond.
“Copyright protection is essential to the survival of creative industries,” said Michael Fricklas, Viacom’s general counsel. “It is and should be illegal for companies to build their businesses with creative material they have stolen from others.”
The bitter battle revolves around Viacom’s allegations that YouTube built itself into the internet’s most watched video site by milking unlicensed use of copyright-protected clips stolen from professionally produced shows such as Viacom’s “The Colbert Report” and “The Daily Show.”
The pirated material came from the millions of people who have uploaded clips to YouTube since its 2005 inception. About 24 hours of new video is posted to YouTube every minute.
Since it was sold to Google, YouTube has developed a system that helps flag copyright violations when videos are posted. Viacom argues those copyright-detection tools prove YouTube could have done more to keep illegal content off its site.
Kent Walker, Google’s general counsel, said the company is confident Stanton’s decision will hold up. The 30-page ruling is “thoughtful, thorough, and well-considered,” Walker said in an interview with the Associated Press. He also hailed the decision as “a victory for a new generation of creators and artists eager to showcase their work online.”
Facebook, eBay Inc., and Yahoo Inc. were among the internet companies that had backed Google in its battle with Viacom.
The sparring leading up to Stanton’s decision proved embarrassing for both sides.
An early eMail exchange among Hurley, Chen, and Karim showed at least one of them might have knowingly violated copyrights as they posted video clips during the service’s early stages.
“Jawed, please stop putting stolen videos on the site,” Chen wrote in the July 19, 2005, message. “We’re going to have a tough time defending the fact that we’re not liable for the copyrighted material on the site because we didn’t put it up when one of the co-founders is blatantly stealing content from other sites and trying to get everyone to see it.”
Other documents showed Viacom had hoped to buy YouTube before getting trumped by Google, making it seem as if the media company’s later claims of copyright abuse might have been a case of sour grapes.
A July 2006 eMail message from Fricklas, Viacom’s top lawyer, even disputed that YouTube was engaged in rampant copyright infringement. “Mostly YouTube behaves,” Fricklas wrote.