Saving the Safe Harbor


Good news in the YouTube/Viacom suit:

Entertainment companies may find it harder to keep movie and TV show clips from circulating for free online after a federal judge on Wednesday threw out Viacom's hotly contested $1 billion copyright infringement suit against Google's YouTube.

U.S. District Court Judge Louis Stanton said that the popular video website could not be held responsible when people post clips from productions such as Viacom's The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report without the entertainment giant's approval….

Stanton said that the Digital Millennium Copyright Act includes a "safe harbor" provision. It was designed to relieve websites from the burden of checking user-generated material before it's posted.

Even at YouTube, where lots of people violate the law, "mere knowledge of the prevalence of (copyright violations) in general is not enough" to make the site liable, Stanton said.

Stanton also noted that YouTube has been quick to remove clips that violate copyrights after they're brought to the company's attention. On a site where users upload over 24 hours' worth of video every minute—much of it perfectly legal—that approach makes far more sense than reviewing everything in advance, a requirement that would undermine the very idea of user-generated content.

For a pdf of the decision, go here.