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Web Giants Back Google In Copyright Case

by Glen Shapiro,, New York

31 May 2010

Facebook, eBay and Yahoo are backing Google in a key copyright lawsuit brought by Viacom.

The three web giants filed a 'friends-of-the-court' brief on May 26 in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York in which they argued that a ruling in favour of Viacom, which owns several television and film companies, would "retard the development of the Internet and electronic commerce" and "inhibit the growth and development of user-centric online models" that make the internet and the world a more democratic place.

The long-running legal dispute began in March 2007 when Viacom filed suit against Google and its subsidiary YouTube, seeking more than USD1bn in damages for alleged copyright infringement.

Viacom has accused YouTube of failing to prevent users from uploading clips from some of its networks, including MTV and Comedy Central, in order to drive traffic to its site and generate more advertising revenues prior to its acquisition by Google in 2006.

According to a Viacom statement published before the trial began in 2007, a "substantial amount" of the content on the YouTube site consisted of unlicensed infringing copies of copyrighted works, and it accused the defendants of doing "little or nothing to prevent this massive infringement."

"To the contrary, the availability on the YouTube site of a vast library of the copyrighted works of plaintiffs and others is the cornerstone of defendants' business plan," the statement claimed. "YouTube deliberately built up a library of infringing works to draw traffic to the YouTube site, enabling it to gain a commanding market share, earn significant revenues, and increase its enterprise value."

The web companies' brief adds to documents filed by NBC Universal, Warner Bros., the Screen Actors Guild and others in support of Viacom’s argument earlier this month.

Google has argued that under the terms of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, it cannot be held responsible for the content added to YouTube by its users. It has also stated that it takes down infringing material on request, in compliance with US legislation on the matter.

While the court briefs by themselves do not change anything, the fact that so many major e-commerce and entertainment firms are taking an interest in the outcome of the case demonstrates the gravity a future ruling will have on US copyright laws.

Analysts have also suggested that the companies involved in the case will eventually be agreeable to some form of settlement; although at first sight it appears that YouTube, or at least its users, are infringing copyright, it is thought that the media companies don't necessarily mind all that much because of the immense publicity benefits.

TAGS: court | business | commerce | law | intellectual property | copyright | internet | e-commerce | legislation | United States

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