Clinic News

Students File Brief in High-profile Viacom-YouTube Copyright Case

By Michael Bazeley

Three Berkeley Law students and Samuelson Clinic Director Jennifer Urban have filed an amicus brief in the high-profile Viacom-YouTube copyright case.

The law and technology clinic filed the friend-of-the-court brief in the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York on Thursday on behalf of its clients the National Alliance for Media Art and Culture and the Alliance for Community Media.

Clinic students Aaron Mackey '12, Eddy Park '12, and Brianna L. Schofield '12 worked with Urban to draft the brief.

In the brief, the clinic explained to the court how Internet platforms such as YouTube have allowed independent artists, creators, and speakers to reach worldwide audiences to tell stories, particularly of those unrepresented in traditional media. The brief explains the importance to independent media artists of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act, which protects online service providers from certain kinds of liability. 

With the filing, the clinic and the students have added their voice to one of the most closely watched online copyright cases. Media giant Viacom, which owns brands such as MTV Networks, BET Networks and Paramount Pictures, has been seeking $1 billion in damages from Google-owned YouTube because it says the video-sharing service allowed users to upload and share clips from copyrighted television shows without permission.

In June of last year, a judge issued a summary judgment in favor of YouTube, saying the service had worked quickly to remove copyrighted material from its website when notified of it. The court said that YouTube was protected from liability under the safe harbor provisions of the DMCA. Those provisions say online service providers can avoid liability for hosting copyrighted material if they do it unknowingly and take appropriate action when asked to remove it.

Viacom has appealed last year's ruling.

The National Alliance for Media Art and Culture consists of 225 organizations that represent more than 300,000 artists and media professionals. Its mission is to foster and fortify the culture and business of the independent media arts by providing training, research, and advocacy on behalf of the field. The Alliance for Community Media provides technical assistance and grassroots organizing services to public, educational, and governmental cable access stations.

In its brief, the clinic noted that "Internet-based platforms [such as You Tube] provide powerful, low-barrier tools for disseminating media." The clinic argued that the DMCA allows service providers such as YouTube to provide open media platforms without having to "over-police" every piece of content that users upload.

"Such pressure," the clinic wrote, "coupled with the practical difficulty of determining the difference between lawful and illegal content, would likely lead [online sevice providers] to filter or otherwise restrict content. Because it is difficult to know when a copyrighted work is being used unlawfully, this would acutely harm independent artists, who often make fair or licensed uses of copyrighted material that are at risk of being ensnared in overbroad gatekeeping efforts.’"

Read the full brief here.