After seven long years, Google and Viacom are burying the digital hatchet. The companies on Tuesday jointly announced a resolution of the Viacom vs. YouTube copyright litigation. And, it appears that no money is changing hands.
Financial terms of the landmark copyright suit were not disclosed, however CNN cited “a person with direct knowledge of the terms” as saying neither company would pay any money to the other. Oral arguments on the long-drawn-out case were set for Monday.
Viacom filed a $1 billion lawsuit against YouTube and some other digital properties in 2007. Specifically, the media giant charged the video-sharing service with illegally broadcasting 79,000 copyrighted videos on its viral platform between 2005 and 2008. Some of the clips came from The Daily Show with Jon Stewart as well as South Park.
“Google and Viacom today jointly announced the resolution of the Viacom vs. YouTube copyright litigation,” the companies said in a statement. “This settlement reflects the growing collaborative dialogue between our two companies on important opportunities, and we look forward to working more closely together.”
If You Can’t Beat ‘Em
We caught up with Greg Sterling, principal analyst at Sterling Market Intelligence, to get his take on the settlement. Sterling, who used to practice law, told us it’s an example of "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em."
“Viacom's copyright case was looking increasingly like a loser after several interim defeats. Beyond this, it makes much more sense for Viacom to leverage YouTube to expose its programming and films,” Sterling said. "While the settlement terms weren't released I would imagine that Google gave the company some perks and advantages -- read: visibility -- that we'll see in the coming months.”
The case was a significant test for the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and specifically the “safe harbor” provision. The safe harbor provision protects companies like YouTube from liability if they take down infringing content when the owners ask.
That was Google’s defense and it worked well but until now Viacom continued its appeals. In April 2013, Second Circuit Judge Louis Stanton rejected Viacom’s argument, deciding: “There is no evidence that YouTube induced its users to submit infringing videos, provided users with detailed instructions about what content to upload or edited their content, prescreened submissions for quality, steered users to infringing videos, or otherwise interacted with infringing users to a point where it might be said to participated in their infringing activity.”
Eric Goldman, a professor of Law at Santa Clara University School of Law, has been blogging about the case for years. After Viacom’s court defeat in April 2013 before Judge Stanton, he came to the conclusion that many legal analysts are likely to draw this week:
“Although we could point fingers at the judges (especially the Second Circuit for its stupid willful blindness digression), the real blame goes to Congress for making its safe harbor requirements too detailed and giving judges too much room to color between the lines,” he wrote. “Judge Stanton’s ruling isn’t a model of judicial reasoning, but it’s pretty good in light of how the courts have scrambled the safe harbors due to Congress’ defective drafting.”