Judge bars copyright class actions against YouTube


A US judge has rejected copyright owners’ attempts to file class actions against Google over the unauthorised posting of their material on YouTube.

Judge Louis Stanton was ruling on a request filed in 2007 by plaintiffs including the English Premier League and the French Tennis Federation, which wanted to collectively sue Google for postings on its video-sharing site YouTube.

The proposed class would have covered copyright owners whose videos were allegedly infringed, as well as music publishers whose works were posted without their authorisation.

Stanton said it would be “unrealistic” to combine differing copyright infringement claims and that “generally speaking, copyright claims are poor candidates for class-action treatment”.

While the legal analyses for different copyright claims may be similar, Stanton said, each one would need to be decided on the facts, and some class actions could potentially include thousands of plaintiffs.

Stanton said there would still be sufficient incentives available for individual copyright owners to file suit.

Class actions justify courts accepting cases that would probably be too expensive if filed individually, but they can provide logistical complications.

“There are many instances when it is not practical to bring suit individually,” said Chuck Colman, founder of Charles Colman Law PLLC in New York.

“At the same time," he added. "Judge Stanton was generally correct that copyright infringement lawsuits can be ill-suited to class-action status."

But Colman said the judge overstated the incentives available to individual authors to recoup statutory damages in the absence of class actions.

“Certain statutory damages are not always available to copyright plaintiffs. Even when they are, damages might only reach a maximum of $150,000 per work for egregious acts of wilful infringement. Sometimes they reach only three figures, for non-wilful infringement.”

Copyright class actions have reached the US Supreme Court in the past, and there is currently a high-profile class action brought against Google at the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. The Authors Guild, which represents US authors, is suing Google over digitisation of millions of works under the Google Books programme.

The latest decision is another blow to copyright owners’ efforts to sue Google over the alleged unauthorised use of their material on YouTube. Last month, Stanton threw out Viacom’s $1billion lawsuit against Google over the use of clips from various TV shows, saying Google is protected by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DCMA). Viacom is appealing.

A successful Viacom appeal could affect the outcome of the English Premier League et al case, if the plaintiffs choose to sue Google individually following the rejection of their class action, said Jenevieve Maerker, associate at Foley Hoag LLP.

“The cases address some similar issues, such as wilful blindness, which is what YouTube must do to lose its safe harbour under the DCMA if it purposely avoided learning of infringing behaviour.”

This article was first published on 20 May 2013 in World IP Review

youtube, google, google books, english premier league, judge stanton

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