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Google, Viacom Settle Suit Over YouTube

Publication Date: 
March 19, 2014
San Francisco Chronicle
Ellen Huet

Julie Ahrens, director of Copyright and Fair Use at the Center for Internet and Society spoke with The San Francisco Chronicle's Ellen Huet on the importance of "safe harbor" provisions for companies like YouTube and Google. 

Veoh could have been a contender.

In 2006, the fledgling video-hosting company was poised to become another YouTube, until it faced several lawsuits alleging content uploaded by its users violated copyright laws. Veoh eventually won the cases, but the legal battle of attrition lasted four years and sucked the lifeblood out of the company. It filed for bankruptcy in 2010.

Veoh's tale is what worries analysts in light of Google and Viacom's settlement on Tuesday of their seven-year, $1 billion lawsuit over copyright infringement on YouTube. The courts consistently ruled in Google's favor, and no money changed hands in the settlement, a source told Reuters. Details of the settlement were not disclosed.


"They (Viacom) see it as a useful way to monetize their content," said Julie Ahrens, director of copyright and fair use at Stanford University's Center for Internet and Society. "They don't control every copy of songs, movies or clips that get put up on YouTube, but if a user puts it up, they can say, 'OK, we know it's there and we're OK with it.' "

Ahrens said hosting companies and rights owners still don't agree on the level of responsibility a host site has over preventing copyright infringement.

"One side says Google should do more, and Google responds by saying that's how the law works," Ahrens said. But the "safe harbor" provisions allow host companies to grow.

"Otherwise, the risks to these companies would be way too great and they wouldn't exist," she said. "If YouTube had to start with the idea that if anything on here is infringing, it's going to be sued and be liable for millions and millions of dollars. Nobody would go into that."