By Joseph Gregory
Whether you agree or disagree with the district court’s holding in Viacom v. YouTube, everyone acknowledges that the decision has far reaching implications for copyright owners, internet service providers, and the music industry as a whole. YouTube has developed into perhaps the easiest and fastest way to access copyrighted music content for free while allowing users to avoid the risks of downloading songs via illegal peer-to-peer “file sharing” programs. However, while YouTube itself is certainly not an illegal program, much (if not most) of the music content found on the site is unauthorized. Viacom v. YouTube details the body of law that applies to the issue and the court’s belief of who is responsible for policing the problem. The comment that follows explains why I believe the court is wrong and how the music industry and copyright owners have suffered a massive blow.
As a result of the decision, the burden of taking costly affirmative steps to police infringement will continue to be laid with music companies and other copyright owners. This is the case even though YouTube is aware of the massive scale of unauthorized content present on their site and even though YouTube has a system that notifies them of each and every instance that possible unauthorized content is uploaded by a user. Music companies will continue to have to outsource the task of policing content fostered by other websites. This added expense only gives one more justification for labels to find new and unpopular methods of recouping money from artists. I do not suggest that the burden described above should rest solely on YouTube; rather, I believe the initial responsibility should be balanced somehow between content owners and websites hosting the content.
â[A]s we look at the problems that we face as a Nation, and as we move rapidly towards this global economy, it is difficult to imagine an issue that is much more important than theft of intellectual property.â
Obtaining copyrighted material without paying the customary price is easier today than ever. The internet is full of websites that host and allow users to access copyrighted content for free. For example, take the popular internet service provider YouTube. YouTube prides itself for being âthe world’s most popular online video community, allowing millions of people to discover, watch and share originally-created videos.â How âpopularâ is YouTube you ask? âPeople are watching 2 billion videos a day on YouTube and uploading hundreds of thousands of videos daily. In fact, every minute, 24 hours of video is uploaded to YouTube.â Because copyright exists from the moment of creation in a qualifying work, each of these hundreds of thousands of videos posted daily on YouTube that is an original work of authorship is entitled to copyright protection. In a perfect world, every one of the videos on YouTube would be posted by, or with the permission from, the actual copyright owner of the content in the video; unfortunately, this is not the case. Each video containing copyrighted content posted on YouTube without the copyright ownerâs authorization infringes the ownerâs copyright.
In 2007, one particular copyright owner, Viacom Inc., filed a complaint against YouTube alleging copyright infringement. Viacom announced that YouTube was hosting almost 160,000 unauthorized clips containing Viacomâs content, and that these videos had been viewed more than 1.5 billion times. The ensuing litigation proved to be a landmark case that affects not only the rights of content owners, but the obligations of those hosting their content.
InÂ Viacom International, Inc. v. YouTube, Inc. (âViacomâ), the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (âDistrict Courtâ) granted summary judgment in favor of defendant YouTube, and explained that YouTube is protected from Viacomâs copyright infringement claims by way of the Digital Millennium Copyright Actâs (âDMCAâ) Â§ 512 safe harbor provisions.Specifically, Judge Louis L. Stanton reasoned that because YouTube lacked item-specific knowledge of infringing activity, it did not âreceive financial benefit directly attributable to the infringing activity, in a case in which the service provider has the right and ability to control such activity.â Moreover, Judge Stanton construed the safe harbor provision that requires that a service provider not be âaware of facts or circumstances from which infringing activity is apparent,â as actually requiring knowledge of specific and identifiable instances of infringement. This case comment contends that the District Court erred in requiring that YouTube possess item-specific knowledge of infringement before it forfeits DMCA safe harbor protection. By requiring such item-specific knowledge of infringement, the District Court ignored relevant precedent and rendered the so-called âred-flagâ knowledge provision in the safe harbor superfluous.
InÂ Viacom, plaintiff Viacom International, Inc. (âViacomâ or âPlaintiffâ), one of the worldâs leading creators of programming and content across all media platforms, filed suit against YouTube, Inc. (âYouTubeâ or âDefendantâ) for copyright infringement.Specifically, Viacom alleged violations of its exclusive rights to reproduce, publicly perform, and publicly display its copyrighted content. According to Viacom, the tens of thousands of videos on YouTube containing copyrighted Viacom content, resulting in hundreds of millions of views, were taken unlawfully from Viacomâs copyrighted works without authorization.
A brief discussion on the forms of copyright infringement is necessary to understand Viacomâs claims against YouTube. Under United States copyright law, a defendant may be found liable for copyright infringement in two different forms: direct infringement and secondary infringement. A âdirectâ infringer is anyone who violates one of the copyright ownerâs exclusive rights in Â§ 106 of the Copyright Act. On the other hand, an âindirectâ infringer, also known as a âsecondaryâ infringer, is anyone who causes or permits another to engage in an infringing act. Secondary infringement is actually a broader class including three distinct methods of infringement: vicarious infringement, contributory infringement, and inducement of copyright infringement. Vicarious liability for copyright infringement exists when two requirements are met: first, the defendant must have both the right and ability to control the infringing conduct; second, the defendant must have a direct financial interest in the infringing act. Contributory liability for copyright infringement exists when two requirements are met: first, a defendant must materially contribute to an act of direct infringement; second, the defendant must have knowledge of the direct infringement. Liability for inducement of copyright infringement exists when a defendant distributes a device with the object of promoting its use to infringe copyright, as shown by clear expression or other affirmative steps taken to foster infringement. Viacom sued YouTube for direct, vicarious, and contributory copyright infringement, as well as inducement of copyright infringement.
At trial, YouTube moved for summary judgment on the ground that it is entitled to the DMCAâs Â§ 512 safe harbor protection, and thus, cannot be held liable under any theory of copyright infringement, whether direct or secondary. Viacom cross-moved for partial summary judgment that YouTube was not eligible for safe harbor protection partly because: (1) YouTube had actual knowledge and was aware of facts and circumstances from which infringing activity was apparent, but failed to act expeditiously to stop it; and (2) YouTube âreceive[d] a financial benefit directly attributable to the infringing activityâ and âhad the right and ability to controlâ such activity.In granting summary judgment to YouTube, the District Court held that YouTube satisfied all the requirements of the DMCA Â§ 512(C) safe harbor provision. The District Court rejected Viacomâs claim that YouTube was aware of facts or circumstances from which infringing activity is apparent, explaining that the so-called âred-flagâ knowledge requirement actually requires knowledge of specific and identifiable instances of infringement. The District Court also rejected Viacomâs claim that YouTube received a financial benefit directly attributable to the infringing activity, in a case where it had the right and ability to control such activity, explaining that ââthe right and ability to controlâ the activity requires knowledge of it, which must be item-specific.â
This case comment contends that by erroneously reading an item-specific knowledge requirement into both the âright and ability to controlâ necessity of Â§ 512(c)(1)(C) and the âred-flagâ knowledge provision, the District Court deviated from relevant precedent and rendered the âred-flagâ knowledge provision superfluous. The District Court ignored certain principles from landmark infringement cases such asÂ Grokster andÂ Napster that, if properly followed, would have paved the way for a Viacom victory. As a practical matter, this decision imposes too great an obligation on copyright owners to police their own content, rather than a balanced effort between copyright owners and services which foster and allow infringement to take place by providing the means. Indeed, under the District Courtâs decision, copyright owners will be vested with a responsibility far greater than the one Congress intended when it crafted the DMCA safe harbor protection.
If a service provider receives a financial benefit directly attributable to the infringing activity, in a case in which the service provider has the right and ability to control such activity, the service provider loses safe harbor protection. It is important to note that the District Court chose not to explicitly state that YouTube is receiving a financial benefit directly attributable to the infringing activity, choosing instead to center its analysis around YouTubeâs right and ability to control the activity. However, the District Court, in a decision merely one month beforeÂ Viacom, recognized that financial benefit exists where the availability of infringing material acts as a draw for customers and the service provider receives increased advertising revenue as a result. It should be fair to say that the amount of infringing material on YouTube acts as a draw for customers considering the infringing videos containing Viacomâs content were allegedly viewed hundreds of millions of times. Furthermore, the District Court noted that a jury could find that this increased usage enhanced YouTubeâs income from advertisements. Using the foregoing principles, the District Court should have explicitly stated that YouTube receives a financial benefit directly attributable to the infringing material.
Contrary to the District Courtâs decision that the âright and ability to controlâ infringing activity requires item-specific knowledge of infringement, the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit inÂ Napster correctly stated otherwise. InÂ Napster, a group of copyright holders sued Napster, a peer-to-peer computer file sharing program, for copyright infringement. The plaintiffsâ theories of infringement were based on contributory and vicarious copyright infringement doctrines, which as discussed above, can hold the service provider liable for the direct infringement of its users. Addressing the vicarious infringement claim, the Court reasoned that the ability to block infringersâ access to a particular environment for any reason is evidence of the right and ability to supervise its usersâ conduct. The Court went on to explain that because Napster retained the right to control access to their system and terminate accounts at their discretion and had the ability to locate infringing material listed on its search indices, the lower court correctly found that Napster had the right and ability to control its usersâ conduct. Parallel to the Courtâs reasoning inÂ Napster, one scholar suggests that âa service provider clearly has the ability to control the infringing activity when it hosts the infringing material, can remove it, block access to the system and filter incoming works through manual or technological means.â Using the foregoing principles, it appears that YouTube does actually possess the right and ability to control both their usersâ conduct and the content they host. In fact, YouTube parallels Napster in reserving a control right in the following language taken from YouTubeâs terms of service:
YouTube reserves the right to decide whether Content violates these Terms of Service for reasons other than copyright infringement, such as, but not limited to, pornography, obscenity, or excessive length. YouTube may at any time, without prior notice and in its sole discretion, remove such Content and/or terminate a user’su [sic] account for submitting such material in violation of these Terms of Service.
The District Courtâs reasoning that the âright and ability to controlâ infringing activity requires item-specific knowledge of infringement is also at odds with the United States Supreme Courtâs reasoning inÂ Grokster. InÂ Grokster, a group of copyright holders sued Grokster, a peer-to-peer file downloading service similar to Napster, for inducement of copyright infringement and vicarious copyright infringement. Since the Court was able to decide the case on the inducement theory, it opted not to analyze the vicarious liability claim. However, the Court did take the opportunity to interpret the phrase âright and ability to controlâ to impose liability even if the defendant initially lacks knowledge of the infringement. The District Court inÂ Viacom explained that it believedÂ Grokster to be inapplicable to the case at hand because theÂ Grokster opinion addresses the phrase âright and abilityâ in context with vicarious and contributory liability, rather than with safe harbor provisions of the DMCA. However, it is a well-established rule of statutory construction that where Congress uses terms that have accumulated settled meaning under common law, a court must infer, unless the statute otherwise dictates, that Congress means to incorporate the established meaning of these terms. The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit correctly applied this well-established rule of statutory construction when it explained that the safe harbor provisions of the DMCA should be interpreted consistent with the common law standard for vicarious copyright liability. By choosing to ignore the Supreme Courtâs interpretation inÂ Grokster that the phrase âright and ability to [control]â does not require actual knowledge of infringement, the District Court erred in its interpretation of the safe harbor provisions.
The District Court further erred in requiring that YouTube possess item-specific knowledge of infringement before it is considered to possess âred-flagâ knowledge. As discussed earlier, under the safe harbor provisions, if a service provider is aware of facts or circumstances from which infringing activity is apparent and fails to act expeditiously in removing it, the service provider is ineligible for safe harbor protection. Congress distinguished actual knowledge from âred-flagâ knowledge by dividing the two into separate factors within the statute. It appears that by requiring item-specific knowledge of infringement for âred-flagâ knowledge, there is no longer a distinction between the actual and âred-flagâ knowledge provisions. I cannot think of a situation in which a service provider would possess item-specific knowledge of infringement and yet somehow fall short of possessing actual knowledge of that same infringement; the District Court fails to provide an example of such a situation. The District Courtâs holding that renders the âred-flagâ knowledge provision superfluous within the statute could be acceptable if not for perhaps the most basic canon of statutory interpretation: “[a] statute should be construed so that effect is given to all its provisions, so that no part will be inoperative or superfluous, void or insignificant . . . .” The District Court should have reserved meaning for âred-flagâ knowledge other than explaining that this knowledge must be item-specific. A basic reading of the statute that the service provider not be âaware of factsÂ or circumstances from which infringing activity isÂ apparentâ (emphasis added) suggests that once YouTube received a take-down notice for some 100,000 videos from Viacom, it became aware of either facts or circumstances from which infringing activity is apparent, and thus the responsibility to seek out subsequent infringing videos should have fallen on YouTube rather than Viacom.
In summary, the District Court chose to adopt an interpretation of the safe harbor provisions of the DMCA with serious legal and practical implications. The District Courtâs decision is not only at odds with theÂ Napster andÂ Grokster decisions, but it also ignores two of the most concrete rules of statutory construction. Moreover, the District Courtâs decision imposes a burdensome obligation on copyright owners. By requiring copyright owners to identify each and every video containing infringing content on websites before the service provider is required to take any action, YouTube is perfectly situated to turn a blind eye to infringement so long as it responds to take-down notices sent by the copyright owner. The obvious result is that there is no incentive on the part of the service provider to affirmatively seek out the infringing activity it fostersâa result that hardly seems fair in light of the obvious fact that it is the service provider who is best situated to police its own website.
 144 Cong. Rec. H10,615â01 (Statement of Rep. Dreier).
 The Digital Millennium Copyright Act defines a âservice providerâ as âa provider of online services or network Â Â Â access, or the operator of facilities therefor [sic] . . . .â Digital Millennium Copyright Act, Pub. L. No. 105â304, 112 Stat. 2860 (1998) (codified as amended in scattered sections of 17 U.S.C.).
 YouTube Fact Sheet, YouTube, http://www.youtube.com/t/fact_sheet (last visited Oct. 10, 2010).
 See 17 U.S.C. Â§ 102 (2006).
 See id. Â§ 106.
 Complaint, Viacom Intâl Inc. v. YouTube, Inc., 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 62829 (S.D.N.Y. 2010).
 Viacom Files Federal Copyright Infringement Complaint Against YouTube and Google, Viacom News, http://www.viacom.com/news/News_Docs/Viacom%20Press%20Release.pdf (last visited Nov. 10, 2010).
 Viacom Intâl Inc. v. YouTube, Inc., 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 62829 (S.D.N.Y. 2010).
 Under 17 U.S.C. Â§ 512(c)(1), a service provider is protected from claims of copyright infringement if the service provider: (A) (i) does not have actual knowledge that the material or an activity using the material on the system or network is infringing; (ii) in the absence of such actual knowledge, is not aware of facts or circumstances from which Â infringing activity is apparent; or (iii) upon obtaining such knowledge or awareness, acts expeditiously to remove, or disable access to, the material; (B) does not receive financial benefit directly attributable to the infringing activity, in a case in which the Â Â service provider has the right and ability to control such activity; and (C) upon notification of claimed infringement as described in paragraph (3), responds expeditiously to remove, or disable access to,Â the material that is claimed to be infringing or to be the subject of infringing activity. Digital Millennium Copyright Act, Pub. L. No. 105â304, 112 Stat. 2860 (1998) (codified as amended in scattered sections of 17 U.S.C.).
 Viacom, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 62829, at *40â41.
 The requirement in the DMCA that the service provider, âin the absence of [actual knowledge], is not aware of facts or circumstances from which infringing activity is apparentâ is commonly referred to as the âred-flagâ knowledge provision.Â See, e.g.,Â id.; Andrew Berger,Â Viacom v. YouTube: Can a Web Host Welcome and Profit From Infringing Activity and Then Claim Not to Know About It?, IP In Brief (July 30, 2010), http://www.ipinbrief.com/can-2/; Ronald Cass,Â Google Wins Round One Against Viacom, Forbes.comÂ (June 24, 2010, 6:40 PM), http://www.forbes.com/2010/06/24/google-viacom-youtube-lawsuit-opinions-contributors-ronald-a-cass.html.
 Complaint,Â supra note 7, at 7.
 Under United States copyright law, the owner of a copyright in a work has the exclusive right to reproduce the copyrighted work, prepare derivative works based on the copyrighted work, distribute copies of the copyrighted work, perform the copyrighted work publicly, display the copyrighted work publicly, and, in the case of sound recordings, to perform the copyrighted work publicly by means of a digital audio transmission. 17 U.S.C. Â§ 102 (2006).
 Complaint,Â supra note 7, at 10.
 See, e.g., MGM Studios v. Grokster, Ltd., 545 U.S. 913, 930 (2005).
 See Sony Corp. of Am. V. Universal City Studios, Inc., 464 U.S. 417, 434 (1984).
 Melville B. Nimmer & David Nimmer, 3â12 Nimmer on Copyright Â§ 12.04 (2010).
 Id.; MGM Studios v. Grokster, Ltd., 545 U.S. 913, 927 (2005).
 Grokster, 545 U.S. at 936.
 Complaint,Â supra note 7, at 18â24.
 Viacom Intâl Inc. v. YouTube, Inc., 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 62829, at *8 (S.D.N.Y. 2010).
 Id. at *8â9.
 Id. at *45.
 Id. at *35.
 Id. at *41.
 MGM Studios v. Grokster, Ltd., 545 U.S. 913, 927 (2005).
 A&M Records, Inc. v. Napster, Inc., 239 F.3d 1004 (9th Cir. 2001).
 17 U.S.C. Â§ 512(c)(1)(B) (2006).
 Viacom, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 62829, at *41.
 Arista Records LLC v. Lime Group LLC, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 46638, at *85-86 (S.D.N.Y. 2010).
 Viacom, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 62829, at *15.
 Id. at *14â*15.
 Id. at *41.
 A&M Records, Inc. v. Napster, Inc., 239 F.3d 1004 (9th Cir. 2001).
 Id. at 1011.
 Id. at 1010.
 See supra text accompanying notes 20â26.
 Napster, 239 F.3d at 1023.
 See id. at 1024.
 Scott Zebrack,Â Viacom v. YouTube: a Missed Opportunity, The National Law Journal (July 26, 2010), http://www.law.com/jsp/nlj/PubArticleNLJ.jsp?id=1202463839409&iViacom_v_YouTubei_a_missed_opportunity&slreturn=1&hbxlogin=1.
 Terms of Service, YouTube, http://www.youtube.com/t/terms (last updated June 9, 2010).
 MGM Studios v. Grokster, Ltd., 545 U.S. 913 (2005).
 Id. at 919.
 Id. at 931 n.9.
 See id.
 See Viacom Intâl Inc. v. YouTube, Inc., 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 62829, at *36 (S.D.N.Y. 2010).
 Neder v. United States, 527 U.S. 1, 21 (1999).
 Perfect 10, Inc. v. CCBill LLC, 488 F.3d 1102, 1117â1118.
 Grokster, 545 U.S. at 931 n.9.
 See supra note 10.
 See id.
 E.g., Corley v. United States, 129 S. Ct. 1558, 1566 (2009) (referring to this canon as âone of the most basic interpretative canons.â); Dodd v. United States, 545 U.S. 353, 371 (2005) (âIt is, of course, a basic canon of statutory construction that we will not interpret a congressional statute in such a manner as to effectively nullify an entire section.â); Bilski v. Kappos, 130 S. Ct. 3218, 3228â3229 (2010) (âThis established rule of statutory interpretation cannot be overcome by judicial speculation as to the subjective intent of various legislators in enacting the subsequent provision.â).
 See supra text accompanying notes 54, 59.
 See Zebrak, supra note 47.
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