A proxy battle between Hollywood and Silicon Valley is beginning to take shape in the courts. In one corner, Viacom- the media conglomerate that owns Paramount, MTV films, and over 30 television channels. Standing behind them are Hollywood heavyweights Warner Bros., NBC Universal, Disney, the Screen Actors Guild and the Directors Guild of America. In the opposite corner, weighing in as the most viewed website on the planet, Google! Google’s corner team includes Yahoo, Facebook, and eBay.
The title bout between the Hollywood team and the internet groups began when Viacom filed a $1 billion suit against YouTube and its parent company Google, claiming massive copyright infringement. The suit alleged that users had uploaded enough copyrighted material, frequently enough, that it caused a revenue hit to Viacom. Viacom specifically claimed that 63,000 copyrighted works were being displayed on YouTube, and it asked a New York judge for a summary judgment ruling in its favor. The Hollywood groups supporting Viacom also filed amicus briefs, which are legal motions by parties not directly involved in the litigation, but who are willing to offer information to help assist the court.
Google fought back and claimed that YouTube was protected under the Federal Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which claims that a service provider is not liable for infringement if it removes material when notified by the copyright owner. Google also asked for a summary judgment. This week, Yahoo, Facebook and eBay have all filed amicus briefs in support of Google.
“The courts have been clear that creating and building a Web-based business on the intellectual property of others is illegal,” a Viacom spokesperson told Bloomberg. “That is exactly what YouTube did in its formative years. Nothing in this case threatens the principles of the DMCA or the ability of legitimate Internet-based businesses to flourish.”
The Football Association Premier League filed a similar suit against YouTube, claiming that the website infringed on copyrights regarding British soccer matches. The amicus briefs will carry over to this case as well.
“[Viacom’s] legal arguments, if accepted, would retard the development of the Internet and electronic commerce, create uncertainty for service providers regarding their legal exposure for alleged infringements, and inhabit the growth and development of user-centric online models that, day after day, make the Internet and the world more democratic.” The brief filed by Google states.
Regardless of the outcome, the stakes are beginning to grow, and both sides are gathering support, and one way or another, the results should end up shaping how we watch video content.