Viacom V/S Youtube: A Dispute Over The Future Of Digital Media

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This Article gives an unmistakable portrayal and studies about the Topic- VIACOM V/S YOUTUBE: A DISPUTE OVER THE FUTURE OF DIGITAL MEDIA. This important case tested the validity of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 which was passed to balance the protection of Copyrights with Internet service Provider’s wish to freely distribute material online. The issue here well was it legal for YouTube to have material under Copyright on its website, even without their knowledge? Hence, for solving this issue under this case, at first we start with the introduction to the parties of the Case.

KEYWORDS- YouTube, Viacom, Digital Media, Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998, Copyright Infringement, New York Court


YouTube is an online video sharing platform created in 2005 by PayPal employees and owned by Google in 2006 in a billion dollar deal due to its immense popularity. Altogether, clients/users watch more than one billion hours of YouTube videos each day, and hundreds of hours of video content are uploaded to YouTube servers every minute. The supporters of Google and YouTube were eBay Inc., Face book Inc., Yahoo Inc., Human Rights Watch and Consumers Union.


Viacom is constrained by Sumner Redstone and owns cable networks such as MTV and Comedy Central as well as the Paramount movie studio. The second manifestation of Viacom Inc. was an American multinational mass media conglomerate with interests basically in film and television, which was shaped as a side project of the principal Viacom on December 31, 2005. The supporters of Viacom are the Associated Press, Gannett Co. Inc., the National Football League, Garth Brooks, the Eagles and Sting.

Ensuing to the filing of its plaint, Viacom joined CBS, Disney, Fox, Microsoft, MySpace, NBC/Universal, Daily Motion and Veoh in supporting the Principles for User-Generated Content Services[1]. Referred to prevalently as the UGC Principles, these rules energize the end of infringing content on service providers, endeavoring to oblige reasonable use concerns at the same time. The UGC Principles are comprehensively seen to be a traditionalist mechanism to the safe harbour contentions raised by service providers; obviously everybody needs to be in the digital media pie and isn’t dazzled with YouTube’s strength in the circle.


Viacom sued YouTube, for “brazen” and ” gigantic” copyright infringement by permitting clients/user to transfer and view hundreds or thousands of recordings claimed by Viacom without authorization. Viacom Claims that YouTube Hosts more than 150,000 unapproved Viacom-possessed clasps, which have been seen more than 1.5 multiple times. Subsequently, Viacom seeks statutory damages for infringement or $1 billion in actual damages by filing a 27-page complaint against YouTube in the Southern District of New York under Judge Louis Stanton.


Viacom expressed that YouTube is responsible for straightforwardly infringing copyrighted content by:

  • Freely performing videos on its webpage and other related sites;
  • Showing individual images of infringing video clips in light to look for these videos; and
  • Making and otherwise authorizing copies of copyrighted videos into its database

The Viacom additionally asserts that the activities of YouTube’s clients/users lead the VSP to breach of copyright. Apart from expressing that YouTube has initiated numerous clients/ users to upload and publicly display unauthorized/ unapproved clips[2], Viacom additionally brings up that the previous has materially contributed to such infringing activity through its passive consent. Further, the plaint states that YouTube had express knowledge of the activities and has, more importantly, derived considerable financial benefit from the entire process[3].


  • Public Performance via Streaming and inserting
  • Public Display via Thumbnails
  • Reproduction of Unauthorized/ duplicate copies
  • Inducement of Copyright Infringement; usurping content proprietor’s Rights
  • Contributory Copyright Infringement by having Actual and Constructive Knowledge
  • Vicarious Infringement by not allowing filtering

Google’s in-house counsel and representative attorneys keep up that it is hard to put direct duty on YouTube. Simultaneously, they additionally realize that YouTube is protected by the ‘safe harbour’ provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, 1998[4], which exempt the service provider from indirect infringement.


As the Google and YouTube have taken recourse to ‘safe harbour’ provisions cherished in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, 1998 (DMCA)[5]  on April 30, 2007 by referring the protection offered by § 512 (c) to dismiss Viacom’s claims.39. The safe harbours are provided in § 512 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, 1998 (DMCA) and contain qualification standards and conditions to mitigate liability. Subsequently, it is appropriate to take note of the qualification prerequisites for safe harbour protection[6] in order to mitigate liability, a service provider must:

  • Adopt and implement a termination policy37 to remove repeat infringers; and
  • Accommodate and not interfere with ‘standard technical measures’[7] used to protect copyright holders.

Subsequent to this provision, a service provider will not be liable for copyright infringement arising from material stored at the direction of its users, if it conforms to three primary requirements:

Firstly, and foremost, a service provider’s liability is mitigated if it is not aware of the existence of copyrighted content in its system or network. Such awareness is statutorily qualified to include actual knowledge of

  • The infringing material/ activity[8] and;
  • The facts and circumstances from which such infringing activity is apparent.
  • The service provider must also act expeditiously to remove, or disable access to the copyrighted material.

Secondly, the service provider must not have received any financial benefit directly attributable to the infringing activity.

Thirdly, the service provider must have an effective take-down policy which implements the immediate removal of infringing content.


The plaint attempts to demonstrate defects in YouTube’s termination policy and glaring insufficiencies in its execution. The Aimster Copyright Litigation in which the Court confronted a comparable circumstance and was called upon to decide Aimster’s qualification to fit the bill for the safe harbours. YouTube’s Terms of Use clearly specify the expulsion of clients/users who indulge in repeat infringement and closely resembles Aimster’s policy in this regard[9].


Courts have recognized the troubles in distinguishing the infringing nature of user-generated content and have altered the ‘warning’ measure to mean unmitigatedly clear instances of infringement as there were so many infringing clips on YouTube that it would be impossible to do a clip-by-clip analysis.


While the advertising revenue obtained from viewing and uplink of protected videos may customarily appear to fulfill this rule YouTube didn’t impact clients/users in their infringing activity, and did not have the required “control” beyond the “normal ability of every service provider to decide what appears on its platform.”


Judge Louis Stanton had administered this for YouTube in June 2010 by relying on the DMCA’s authoritative history to hold that “simple information on the predominance of such movement by and large, isn’t sufficient”. Consequently, in 2010, the district court had granted YouTube’s motion for summary judgment, holding that YouTube was protected by the “safe harbour” provision of the DMCA.


In 2012, on appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, Viacom’s case restored but following an appeal by Viacom, the Second Circuit remanded the case to the district court, requesting it to consider the accompanying focuses again thus, that YouTube could appropriately guarantee the security of the § 512(c)[10] safe harbour:

  1. Whether YouTube had knowledge or awareness of any specific infringements
  2. Whether YouTube persistently dazed itself to explicit infringements
  3. Whether YouTube had the “right and ability to control” infringing activity and
  4. Whether any clip-in-suit was syndicated or partnered to a third party/outsider.


Following the remand from the Second Circuit court of appeals, on April 18, 2013, Judge Louis Stanton issued another order granting summary judgment in favor of YouTube by reasoning that YouTube has neither shown willful visual impairment, nor been able to control infringing activity, nor “interacted with infringing users to a point where it might be said to have participated in their infringing activity.”


But, at last the parties settled in March 2014, and it was reported that no money changed hands.


Interpretational work on the DMCA safe harbours, the Court is expected to factor in contemporary concerns identifying with the survey and move of digitized media. The court’s decision provides guidance to both Internet service providers and content providers in regards to their particular commitments under the DMCA. Viacom v. YouTube will be a watershed in allotting the liability or obligation of VSPs for its users’ actions.

A triumph for Viacom in this case may demonstrate pyrrhic, since there is actually no halting the quick producing YouTubes of the Internet. Since, YouTube had directed site overviews and assessed that 75-80% of all streams contained protected matter. Besides, Google monetary counsel Credit Suisse had assessed that over 60% of YouTube’s substance was “top notch” protected substance, and that just 10% of that was approved by copyright proprietors . Consistent with the proverb, numerous rights holders have understood that they can’t beat such service providers and are better off if they join the trail.


In this way it very well may be all around finished up by referencing the Rationale of the Court was that there were no facts that stated that YouTube had shown willful blindness and that they had no knowledge of any of the clips published on their website. YouTube had also cooperated in the past with Viacom when they had demanded a massive takedown notice.

The court addressed many points of DMCA law, which points out the many factors a service provider must meet under the DMCA to qualify for safe harbour protection under § 512.

This case is important because it keeps the creativity in video hosting sites like YouTube without further backlash from the larger companies like Viacom.

“Congress got it right when it comes to copyright on the Internet,” he said. “This is a win not just for YouTube, but for people everywhere who depend on the Internet to exchange ideas and information.”

                                                                                                                               -Kent Walker, Google’s General Counsel



  • Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998

Other Primary Resources-




[4] 17 USC §§ 512(c)-(d), (i)-(j)

[5] 17 USC §§ 512(c)-(d), (i)-(j)

[6] DMCA, § 512 (i)

[7] Definition Clause; DMCA, §512 (i)(2)

[8] DMCA, § 512 (c)(1)(A)(i)


[10] Digital Millennium Copyright Act, 1998

Written By

Shivam Sharma

IME Law College

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