Appeals Court Vacates Summary Judgment in Viacom v. YouTube

Back in December of 2010, after a previous ruling against Viacom in the billion-dollar copyright infringement case brought by Viacom (Viacom Appeals Google/YouTube Ruling) Legal Bytes reported that three legal scholars filed a brief in support of Viacom’s appeal, stating that “the central issue in this case are the legal tests for contributory and vicarious liability for copyright infringement from the use of Internet sites - in this instance, the YouTube site - to reproduce and disseminate large amounts of copyrighted material without authorization from copyright owners.” The U.S. District Court had previously ruled in favor of YouTube and Google, holding them protected against claims of copyright infringement by the safe harbor provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

Today, in ruling on the appeal, the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals essentially breathed new life into Viacom’s case, remanding it back to the lower court and instructing the District Court judge to determine whether YouTube had knowledge of specific infringing material and willfully blinded itself to that knowledge.

The ruling vacates the District Court’s summary judgment against Viacom, noting the facts might be interpreted by a reasonable jury in a way that would not exonerate or exculpate YouTube from liability. In his opinion, U.S. Circuit Judge Jose A. Cabranes wrote: "We conclude that the District Court correctly held that the 512(c) safe harbor requires knowledge or awareness of specific infringing activity, but we vacate the order granting summary judgment because a reasonable jury could find that YouTube had actual knowledge or awareness of specific infringing activity on its website."

As we have over the years, Legal Bytes will continue to monitor developments in this complex, high stakes litigation involving significant intellectual property issues in our online and digital world. If you would like further information, feel free to contact me, Joe Rosenbaum, or the Reed Smith attorney with whom you regularly work.

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