Viacom’s Billion Dollar Law Suit Could End Parodies On YouTube

Back in April, media conglomerate Viacom was granted a second chance at suing YouTube for hundred of millions of dollars in copyright infringement damages. The original lawsuit filed in 2007 by Viacom was in response to YouTube allowing material with copyrights to be posted on the video-sharing site.

The 2007 lawsuit involved a detailed look into the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which protected service providers from legal trouble caused by users committing copyright infringement on their sites. In this case, YouTube was that service provider.

Viacom still pursued YouTube for legal damages based on the accusation that YouTube was aware of videos posted illegally on the site and still did nothing about it. However, in 2010, the case was thrown out when it was decided that YouTube was not responsible for simply having knowledge of illegal content on their site.

Although the case was thrown out a year ago, The Second Circuit Court of Appeals sided with Viacom’s statements that YouTube openly ignored copyright violations. Therefore, the case has returned to a district court to be decided if YouTube had the ability to control the violations and instead disregarded them.

Now that the case is in full force, the obvious implications of what a victory by Viacom could mean for YouTube and YouTube creators are being examined. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, general counsel at Viacom Michael Fricklas explained that “they [YouTube] built a business that’s dominant online and got there through piracy, or in a large part through piracy and is there a compensation to the copyright owners for that?”

What a Viacom Victory Could Mean for YouTube Creators

If Viacom ends up winning this suit against YouTube, the financial losses would obviously hurt the digital video giants, but the greater concern for creators exists beyond YouTube’s possible revenue damages.

The first repercussion that could arise from courts ruling in favor of Viacom would be the way that material was handled on YouTube going forward. Eric Goldman, director of the High Tech Law Institute at Santa Clara University School of Law, told Reuters in an article that,

“It will make start-ups more hair-trigger on taking down news or content, for fear that failure to do so will be held against them by content providers.”

As a creator, YouTube could potentially be very strict about the type of content that you uploaded. As of right now, creators are able to be very loose in following copyright laws due to YouTube being protected by Digital Millennium. If Viacom were victorious, YouTube would have to develop ways to monitor every piece of content uploaded to the site. Anything with even the slightest hints of infringement would need to be ripped in fear of inciting more legal action.

If YouTube were to lose this case based on their knowledge of illegally uploaded content, it could also open floodgates for many more cases. Already, the relationship between the music industry and YouTube is rocky at best. This case could threaten the nature of what was considered “legal” in terms of creators’ uploads. Many creators currently count parodies as a primary category in their content.

Copyright law Section 107 explains that parodies are an example of fair use if they are used to provide criticism or commentary. However, when brought to court, many of these cases are decided on a case-by-case basis. Parody law does not provide a specific set of standards for what falls into the fair use category. Instead, a judge must determine each case based on its conditions.

The possibility that copyright laws would be carefully scrutinized on YouTube would inevitably hurt many big YouTube stars. The people making the most money on YouTube would be enemy number one for corporations looking to protect their property.

Currently, almost every top subscribed YouTuber features a parody in one form or another on their channel. Many channels currently avoid these legal problems by existing in the grey areas of song cover and parody copyright laws. However, if Viacom were successful with their suit, it could spell the end for most YouTube parody and cover songs.