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Google Counters Viacom in YouTube Squabble

1 May, 2007 By: Jessica Wolf

Google is striking back at Viacom in the media company's $1 billion copyright infringement suit against the Internet search giant for its popular YouTube Web site.

Google filed a response to the suit in U.S. District Court this week that contends it has not violated copyright and is protected under the safe harbor provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

“Viacom's complaint threatens the way hundreds of millions of people legitimately exchange information, news, entertainment and political and artistic expression,” the response reads. “Google and YouTube respect the importance of intellectual property rights, and not only comply with their safe harbor obligations under the DMCA, but go well above and beyond what the law requires.”

Because YouTube is a space where users can post and share self-generated content and because it has tools in place to pull down copyrighted content when notified, Google contends it is protected under the DMCA.

Beyond that, Google contends that the Viacom suit could threaten creativity and stifle technological advancement, something the DMCA originally set out to protect in its safe harbor caveats.

Google also is fast at work on a content-management tool called “Claim Your Content” that will allow intellectual property owners to identify and either restrict or remove illegally posted content.

Viacom, however, reads the DMCA differently, claiming that Google and YouTube does not fall under safe harbor provisions in the act because the company knows there is infringing material on the Web site.

“It is obvious that YouTube has knowledge of infringing material on their site and they are profiting from it,” a Viacom statement reads. “It is simply not credible that a company whose mission is to organize the world's information claims that it can't find what's on YouTube. Unfortunately, Google continues to distinguish itself by failing to join the majority of major digital companies that have affirmatively embraced the legal rights of copyright holders.”

The back-and-forth sparked analysis and debate on the Web this week.

Blogger Mike Masnick at Techdirt.com posited that Google is not equipped to know exactly who posts what and why on the user-generated site.

“Viacom is wrong to imply that Google can somehow magically infer who owns the copyright and whether or not they approve of the use of the content,” he wrote.

And, Masnick pointed out that Google does not actually profit directly from Viacom, or other, copyrighted content.

“Google is profiting from providing a service for hosting, viewing, sharing and discussing videos,” Masnick wrote. “They're profiting off of that service — not off the videos themselves. This is exactly the type of thing that the safe harbor provision was designed for.”

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