WASHINGTON — A US judge Wednesday threw out a copyright lawsuit filed against YouTube by US entertainment giant Viacom, handing the Google-owned video site a major legal victory in a closely watched case.
US District Court Judge Louis Stanton said in his 30-page ruling that YouTube was protected against Viacom's claims of "massive copyright infringement" by provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
The 1998 legislation provides protection for Internet firms from copyright violations by their users, and the judge ruled that YouTube's actions, such as quickly removing infringing videos when requested, were in line with the act.
Google welcomed the ruling, while Viacom vowed to appeal.
"This is an important victory not just for us, but also for the billions of people around the world who use the Web to communicate and share experiences with each other," Google general counsel Kent Walker said in a blog post.
"The decision follows established judicial consensus that online services like YouTube are protected when they work cooperatively with copyright holders to help them manage their rights online," Walker said.
Viacom general counsel Michael Fricklas said the company was "disappointed with the judge's ruling, but confident we will win on appeal.
"Copyright protection is essential to the survival of creative industries," he said. "It is and should be illegal for companies to build their businesses with creative material they have stolen from others.
"This case has always been about whether intentional theft of copyrighted works is permitted under existing law and we always knew that the critical underlying issue would need to be addressed by courts at the appellate levels," he said.
"Today's decision accelerates our opportunity to do so."
US movie and television giant Viacom sued Google and YouTube for a billion dollars in March 2007, arguing that they condoned pirated video clips at the website to boost its popularity.
The lawsuit was merged with a similar complaint being pursued by the English Premier League, which said football clips were also routinely posted on YouTube without authorization.
Viacom's suit charged that YouTube was a willing accomplice to "massive copyright infringement" and sought more than one billion dollars in damages.
Viacom's film and television empire includes many youth-oriented networks like MTV and VH1, popular comedy shows such as Jon Stewart's "The Daily Show" and the Paramount movie studio.
YouTube was a year-old Internet sensation when Google bought it in a 1.65-billion-dollar stock deal in 2006.
Public Knowledge, a Washington-based digital rights group, and the Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT) welcomed the ruling.
"We are very pleased with the outcome of this case," said Sherwin Siy, deputy legal director of Public Knowledge. "It shows that the current structure of copyright law works well for even the largest of content-hosting sites.
"As we have continually said, the burden to point out allegations of infringement is with the content provider, and the burden of taking down material lies with the service provider.
"Had Viacom won this case, that burden would have shifted dramatically," Siy said. "As the law now stands, prompt compliance with take-down notices shields an online service provider from liability."
"Today's decision isn't just about YouTube," said CDT senior policy counsel David Sohn. "Without this decision, user generated content would dry up and the Internet would cease to be a participatory medium."
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