It’s a case of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” in federal court today with frequent competitors YouTube, Facebook and Twitter all jumping to back rival video-sharing site Vimeo in its ongoing court battle with record labels. Those big names are among a small mob of tech companies who signed on to brief urging the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals supporting Vimeo’s claim that it deserves the “safe harbor” protection offered to websites that host copyrighted content in accordance with the Digital Millenium Copyright Act.
The fight between Vimeo and the music industry goes all the way back to 2009. It started because of a trend that we had all but forgotten about: lip dub Videos. You don’t see them very often anymore, but back in the late 2000s, videos of people lip-synching to popular songs were all the rage. Record labels want to get paid for the use of their music in those videos and they’ve been after Vimeo ever since.
Recently, the court ruled that Vimeo was entitled to safe harbor protection for many of the videos that it had hosted, but that it could be liable in cases where “well known” clips were used. Safe harbor protects hosting sites from being charged with copyright infringement committed by users, but it does not apply when the host is aware of the infringement and doesn’t act. The record labels argue that Vimeo should have been aware that the loosely defined “well known songs” were being used without permission.
Vimeo’s claim, which now has the support of Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Pinterest, to name a few, is that employees cannot be reasonably expected to identify copyright infringement based on something as ambiguous as the popularity of a song. Employees responsible for reviewing such material would have no way of knowing if the user had received permission from the rights holder and so can’t be expected to conclude that the use is unauthorized.
Obviously all the players involved have a stake in this fight. If the court finds in favor of the labels then it would open up every other content-hosting platform to a similar lawsuit. Still, leave it to the music wars to bring every other company on the internet together.
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