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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

A Timeline of YouTube Litigation

by: Kurt Hunt, Blog Editor, MTTLR1

In the ongoing debate about the scope of U.S. copyright law, there is possibly no company more in the spotlight than YouTube. YouTube launched in 2005 as a website where users could "easily upload and share video clips . . . across the Internet."2 In November, 2006, YouTube was purchased by Google in a $1.65 billion stock-for-stock deal.3 Now, more than 72 million monthly visitors view more than 100 million videos per day.4

The combination of YouTube's business model (relying entirely on uploaded content) and Google's deep pockets have made the company a lightning rod for litigation. The frenzy of lawsuits has left many confused about who has sued YouTube for what, and about what lawsuits remain relevant. This post is intended to provide a basic overview of the litigation timeline since early 2006, including a basic description of each of the six complaints filed against YouTube. Major developments have been included in the graphical timeline below (click to expand).

Tur v. YouTube5
filed: July 14, 2006
dismissed: October 19, 2007

Robert Tur is an independent news videographer, perhaps best known for his footage of the beating of Reginald Denny during the L.A. Riots in 1992 and his footage of the infamous O.J. Simpson white Bronco car chase in 1994. Capturing such socially important moments earned Tur his reputation, but also caused him to struggle against unauthorized uses of his work.

In the summer of 2006, Tur was the first to file suit against YouTube on a theory of copyright infringement. Both parties' summary judgments were ultimately denied, but the case was never litigated to completion. Tur voluntarily dismissed the case in the fall of 2007 in order to join the Premier League class action suit against YouTube (discussed below).

Viacom v. YouTube6
filed: March 13, 2007

Viacom is the corporation that owns MTV, VH1, BET, Comedy Central, and other popular media outlets. Although other similarly-situated content owners had already signed licensing deals with YouTube,7 Viacom lost its patience after it served more than 100,000 demands to remove unauthorized material from YouTube.8 Although YouTube complied with the takedown requests, Viacom alleged that users were immediately able to reupload similar or identical content. Shortly afterward, Viacom sued YouTube for allegedly hosting and displaying "more than 150,000 unauthorized clips . . . that had been viewed an astounding 1.5 billion times."9 The complaint alleged direct infringement, contributory infringement, vicarious infringement, and inducement.10

Because of the scale of alleged infringement and the high profile of the plaintiff, the Viacom case is one of the two important cases pending against YouTube (the other being the Premier League class action, discussed below).

Premier League v. YouTube11
filed: May 4, 2007

This class action suit for copyright infringement was filed by English Premier League, a major professional sports league from the U.K. While Americans may find it easy to ignore the complaints of a foreign soccer league, this class action has gained considerable inertia. Plaintiffs now include other European sports leagues, Cherry Lane Music Publishing, National Music Publishers’ Association, X-Ray Dog Music, Knockout Entertainment Ltd., Seminole Warriors Boxing, videographer Robert Tur, and author Daniel Quinn.

Along with the Viacom case, this is the one to watch.

Like all suits alleging copyright infringement by YouTube, this case is likely to turn on the court's reading of Section 512(c) of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The MTTLR Blog will be publishing an in-depth discussion of the 512(c) safe harbor in relation to the Premier League case tomorrow.

Grisman v. YouTube12
filed: May 10, 2007
dismissed: May 25, 2007

David Grisman is a world-famous mandolin player (no, really). He played with The Grateful Dead, and has a following in the modern bluegrass scene. In fact, his popularity is such that several videos of him playing were uploaded without authorization to YouTube.

In an attempt to replicate the Premier League class action, Grisman and his company Dawg Music filed suit, alleging copyright infringement. The case was voluntarily dismissed two weeks later, due to Grisman's desire to join the Premier League class to establish "a united front."13

New Jersey Turnpike Authority v. YouTube14
filed: May 22, 2007
dismissed: May 24, 2007

Footage of a grisly car crash, recorded by cameras operated by the New Jersey Turnpike Authority, was obtained by a YouTube user and uploaded to the website. The NJTA sued YouTube for copyright infringement (without even having first requested YouTube to remove the content). Within days, the NJTA decided there was no use in trying to litigate against YouTube on its own and, like fellow small plaintiffs Tur and Grisman, threw in its lot as a member of the Premier League class.

Cal IV v. YouTube15
filed: June 7, 2007
dismissed: July 10, 2007

Cal IV Entertainment, LLC, a country music publisher, also sought to establish a class action suit against YouTube. Its concern was that "more than 60 of the copyright songs in its catalog appeared in various forms without the proper license or any authorization."16 As with most of the independent plaintiffs, Cal IV eventually voluntarily dismissed its action in favor of the Premier League class action.

1  Small portions of this post have been adapted from my forthcoming note. Kurt Hunt, NOTE: Copyright and YouTube: Pirate’s Playground or Fair Use Forum?, 14 Mich. Telecomm. & Tech. L. Rev. ___ (forthcoming Fall 2007).
2  About YouTube, http://www.youtube.com/t/about (last visited Oct. 31, 2007).
3  Press Release, Google, Google to Acquire YouTube for $1.65 Billion in Stock (Oct. 9, 2006) http://www.google.com/press/pressrel/google_youtube.html.
4  YouTube Users Could Share in Ad Revenues, The Daily Mail, Oct. 10, 2006, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/articles/news/news.html?in_article_id=409544.
5  Robert Tur v. YouTube, Inc., No. CV 06-4436-GAF (FMoX) (C.D. Cal. July 14, 2006).
6  Viacom International, Inc. v. YouTube, Inc., No. 07CV2103 (S.D.N.Y. March 13, 2007).
7  See, e.g., YouTube Strikes Content Deals, USA Today, Oct. 9, 2006, http://www.usatoday.com/tech/news/2006-10-09-youtube-deals_x.htm; Andrew Ross Sorkin & Jeff Leeds, Music Companies Grab a Share of the YouTube Sale, N.Y. Times, Oct. 19, 2006, at C-1, available at http://select.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=FA0F13FB34540C7A8DDDA90994DE404482; Sara Kehaulani Goo, NBC Taps Popularity of Online Video Site, Wash. Post, June 28, 2006, at D-01, available at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/06/27/AR2006062701750.html.
8  Eric Bangeman, Viacom Demands YouTube Pull Its Videos Down, Ars Technica, Feb. 2, 2007, http://arstechnica.com/news.ars/post/20070202-8756.html.
9  Complaint at 3, Viacom International, Inc. v. YouTube, Inc., No. 1:07CV02103 (S.D.N.Y. March 13, 2007).
10  For a more thorough discussion of the Viacom complaint, see Kurt Hunt, A Guide to Viacom v. YouTube, Clever WoT, March 15, 2007, http://krhunt.blogspot.com/2007/03/guide-to-viacom-v-youtube.html.
11  Football Association Premier League et al. v. YouTube, Inc., No. 1:07-cv-03582-UA (S.D.N.Y. May 4, 2007).
12  Grisman et al. v. YouTube, Inc., No. 3:2007cv02518 (N.D. Cal. May 10, 2007).
13  Declaration of David J. Grisman in Support of Plaintiffs' Motion for Appointment of Interim Class Counsel, Football Association Premier League et al. v. YouTube, Inc., No. 1:07-cv-03582-UA (S.D.N.Y. May 4, 2007), available at http://docs.justia.com/cases/federal/district-courts/new-york/nysdce/1:2007cv03582/305574/24/3.html.
14  New Jersey Turnpike Authority v. YouTube, Inc., No. 2:2007cv02414 (D.N.J. May 22, 2007).
15  Cal IV Entertainment, LLC v. YouTube, Inc. et al., No. 3:2007cv00617 (M.D. Tenn. June 7, 2007).
16  Complaint at 12, Cal IV Entertainment, LLC v. YouTube, Inc. et al., No. 3:2007cv00617 (M.D. Tenn. June 7, 2007).

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