On March 13, 2007, Viacom International Inc. filed a class action lawsuit against Youtube claiming massive copyright infringement by the defendant. Viacom filed the suit after sending takedown notices to Youtube demanding over 150,000 copyrighted videos be removed from its servers. In its complaint, Viacom notes “millions have seized the opportunities digital technology provides to express themselves creatively.” However, Viacom argues that Youtube has “harnessed technology to willfully infringe copyrights on a huge scale.” Youtube, the complaint urges, has built a library of infringing video clips in order to increase profit. Rather than attempting to remove all infringing videos, Youtube “has decided to shift the burden entirely onto copyright owners to monitor the Youtube site…to detect infringing videos and send takedown notices to Youtube.” Viacom claims that Youtube increases its own value at the expense of copyright holders through the following methods: displaying advertisements above infringing videos, allowing users to embed infringing files onto other websites to draw users to Youtube and subsequently increase ad revenue, and permitting users to keep copyrighted videos hidden from the public. Viacom also notes that Youtube hosts the videos on its own servers, rather than simply acting as a conduit through which users pass files. This, in Viacom’s interpretation, makes Youtube the primary copyright infringer as it is the entity that is actually “performing” the copyrighted footage.
Youtube is one of the more influential websites in the development of Web 2.0. The website has essentially ushered in a new age of internet democratization by giving all users the ability to create and host content. Viacom’s complaint fails to take several important copyright issues into account, however, decreasing the lawsuit’s validity in several key issues. First and foremost, it assumes that Youtube has a clear intention of hosting copyright infringing content. While the court decided that Grokster, in MGM Studios v. Grokster, did not have sufficient non-infringing uses to escape liability, Youtube was developed as a website where average internet users can upload home videos. When asked about a memory associated with Youtube, users will typically discuss a humorous home movie they saw rather than an illegal movie clip. Similarly, Viacom assumes that Youtube is responsible for policing its site for all copyrighted material, failing to mention the DMCA once in the lawsuit. The Safe Harbor clause of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, however, removes service providers from liability for any copyrighted material that users upload to their servers, specifically if the content provider removes material that a copyright holder insists is infringing. Youtube immediately removes material upon receipt of a takedown notice, typically without even ensuring that the entity which issued the notice is actually the copyright holder. Youtube is similarly protected by the Inducing Infringement of Copyrights Act, which protects sites which do not induce others to commit copyright infringement. Rather, Youtube encourages users to produce their own works.