Copyright owners denied class status in YouTube suit

Each copyright claim presents particular factual issues of copyright ownership, infringement, fair use, and damages, the Judge ruled

A federal court in New York has denied class certification to copyright owners in an infringement lawsuit against YouTube over unauthorized hosting of content, stating that copyright claims have only superficial similarities.

Judge Louis L. Stanton of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York had earlier this year thrown out a copyright infringement complaint by Viacom International and others against YouTube, stating that the Google unit was protected under the safe harbor provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which protects service providers from copyright infringement claims if they follow certain notice and take down procedures.

Viacom filed the lawsuit against YouTube in March 2007, and accused YouTube of "brazen" copyright infringement by allowing users to upload more than 150,000 clips of Viacom's programming. Judge Stanton ruled earlier this year that Viacom did not have the kind of "evidence that would allow a clip-by-clip assessment of actual knowledge" by YouTube.

Generally speaking, copyright claims are poor candidates for class-action treatment, the Judge wrote in his ruling on Wednesday. "Each claim presents particular factual issues of copyright ownership, infringement, fair use, and damages, among others," he added.

"Plaintiffs offer no explanation of how the worldwide members of this proposed class are to be identified, how they are to prove copyright ownership by themselves or by their authorized agent, or how they will establish that defendants became aware of the specific video clips which allegedly infringed each of the potentially tens of thousands of musical compositions incorporated into specific videos," Judge Stanton wrote in his order.

The suit was filed in 2007 by The Football Association Premier League and some music publishers and ran in parallel with the Viacom suit.

Citing the Viacom case, the Judge said that YouTube does not generate infringing material, and unless an exception applies, the DMCA requires that YouTube have legal knowledge or awareness of the specific infringement to be liable for it.

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Tags copyrightinternetGooglelegalyoutubeintellectual propertyViacomInternet-based applications and services

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John Ribeiro

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