NBC, Viacom join in copyright battle with YouTube

US television giant NBC Universal sided with Viacom in a legal campaign to force YouTube to vigilantly filter copyrighted material from its popular video-sharing website.

NBC and Viacom are backing Los Angeles newsman Robert Tur, who filed suit against YouTube in July for letting users post his video of trucker Reginald Denny being beaten during riots in Los Angeles in 1992.

"We are confident in our legal case, and more importantly in the tremendous benefit of giving creators a place to post and discuss their videos, whether it be an individual’s family video or the BBC’s decision to partner with us to host their content," YouTube’s owner Google said on Monday in response to an AFP inquiry.

"We meet and exceed our responsibilities under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which balances an easy takedown process and provides complete safe harbor for hosts such as YouTube."

The Viacom-NBC alliance, revealed in a US district court filing in California on Friday, came as YouTube was hit with a class-action copyright violation suit filed by English football’s Premier League in New York State.

The league’s suit was filed on behalf of copyright owners "whose works were reproduced, distributed, publicly displayed, performed or otherwise transmitted or disseminated on youtube.com without authorization," according to court paperwork.

In March, US media giant Viacom launched a billion-dollar lawsuit against YouTube, accusing it of illegally showing clips from its television shows.

However, the jointly crafted brief filed in the Tur case marked the first time NBC took copyright concerns about YouTube to court.

NBC and YouTube have a "strategic partnership" launched in June of last year and depict themselves as partners in efforts to devise ways for YouTube to protect copyrights of film and television show owners.

NBC and Viacom are out to back Tur’s position in a potentially precedent-setting court case in which a "little guy" is up against Internet giant Google’s vast financial and legal resources.

"Any ruling on YouTube’s motion will have far-reaching ramifications for the owners of video content," attorney Russell Frackman wrote in the Viacom-NBC brief.

"In light of the importance of these issues, Viacom and NBC Universal have prepared their brief to provide the court with their position and perspective."

Google and YouTube lawyers want the Tur case be dismissed on the grounds the website is protected by the DMCA, which simply requires it to remove copyrighted material after owners complain.

YouTube contends that holding it accountable for not filtering copyrighted works posted by users threatens a key underpinning of today’s Internet lifestyle.

"YouTube is fully protected by US law which preserves the rights of everyone involved in the free flow of information over the Internet," said Computer & Communications Industry Association chief executive Ed Black.

"To accept the plaintiffs’ unreasonable interpretation of the law would be disastrous for our dynamic industry, the backbone of the information economy."

Viacom and NBC counter that YouTube, which Google bought last year for 1.65 billion dollars worth of stock, filters out pornography and copyrighted material of firms it has deals with, and so could do the same for others.

"YouTube incorrectly contends that the DMCA permits it to avoid any responsibility for the content on its commercial website and completely shift the burden to content owners to discover and notify it of infringements," Frackman wrote in the brief.

"In the meantime, the presence of the infringing content draws users to the YouTube website, and in turn generates revenue for YouTube," he added.

"Regardless of the precise scope intended by Congress in enacting the DMCA, it certainly did not intend that the statute be used to escape liability for the commercial activities of the nature engaged in by YouTube."

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NBC, Viacom join in copyright battle with YouTube