Google and Viacom have finally buried the hatchet over alleged YouTube copyright violations from nearly a decade ago.
The two companies announced a settlement of Viacom's $1 billion lawsuit against YouTube, which Viacom filed in 2007. Viacom had accused YouTube of copyright infringement for hosting tens of thousands of video clips, dating back to 2005.
The terms were not disclosed, but a joint statement from Google and Viacom said the settlement "reflects a growing collaborative dialogue between our two companies on important opportunities, and we look forward to working more closely together."
Anyone who's paid attention to YouTube in recent years shouldn't be surprised by this outcome. Although YouTube originally had a reputation for hosting pirated videos, the site has since cracked down on piracy through its ContentID system, which lets content holders automatically find copyrighted content. Owners can then monetize those videos through ads, track viewing statistics or block the video altogether. The system works well--sometimes a little too well--so even if Viacom prevailed, its 2007 argument that Google failed to stop copyright infringement wouldn't apply to the YouTube of today.
Even so, Viacom President and CEO Philippe Dauman said in 2012 that the case was more about precedent, and establishing the idea that content owners shouldn't be burdened with finding and eliminating every individual case of copyright infringement. It seems Viacom wanted ContentID-like systems to become a requirement.
But on two occasions, U.S. District Court Judge Louis Stanton rejected Viacom's arguments, first in 2010 and again in 2013 after an appeals court sent the case back to the district court. In the most recent ruling, Stanton said YouTube was protected by the "safe harbor" provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which says sites can't be held liable for individual users' copyright infringement as long as the site responds to takedown requests.
Meanwhile, YouTube has become the de facto standard for hosting user-made videos on the Internet. Google also licenses professional content, including movie rentals from Viacom's Paramount Pictures and official clips from Viacom TV shows. The settlement likely paves the way for even more collaboration--with a little less awkwardness on the side.
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