Viacomm, Google settle copyright dispute out of court

19 Mar 2014


Seven years after their dispute started, Viacom and YouTube, a unit of Google, announced last morning that they had settled a copyright violations battle out of court. The agreement comes just as the two companies were to return to court next week. According to commentators, the settlement betokens the changing perspective on copyright violations on the web.

Though Viacom, the owner of cable channels like Comedy Central and the Paramount Pictures movie studio and YouTube, the leading global platform for online video, have chosen to remain silent on the details of the settlement, according to the digital news site ReCode no money passed hands.

The lawsuit began just two years following YouTube's creation, after Viacom complained that its shows, like ''SpongeBob SquarePants'' and ''The Daily Show With Jon Stewart,'' were appearing on YouTube without its permission. The company sought $1 billion in damages from Google.

In the interim, though, Google had worked to address concerns of content owners like Viacom by creating a system to allow tracking of their content when it was posted and then request of taking it down or be run with ads.

The situation had changed so drastically in the meantime, that in 2012 the two media giants signed a pact to allow YouTube to rent out hundreds of Paramount films.

Google and Viacom said in statement: ''Google and Viacom today jointly announced the resolution of the Viacom vs. YouTube copyright litigation. This settlement reflects the growing collaborative dialogue between our two companies on important opportunities, and we look forward to working more closely together.''

At one point Viacom, the cable powerhouse that owns networks such as MTV and Comedy Central, had been seeking $1 billion in damages from Google. But no money traded hands in the settlement, according to people familiar with the transaction.

In 2010, US District Court Judge, Louis Stanton, had ruled largely in favour of Google, giving the internet search company, a significant victory.

Though Viacom appealed that decision, a federal appeals court sent the case back to Stanton again, who repeated his ruling in 2013. After Viacom appeal against the ruling, the two companies were scheduled to appear in court again next Monday.

According to commentators, when it began the dispute looked like it would have major implications for the way the web worked. However, the suit had lost its relevance, as the core issues had been settled by both the courts and the market.

In very broad terms, according to  the practical consensus that had emerged, digital services like YouTube - and Twitter, and Facebook, and everyone else that distributed lots of content uploaded by its users - were not responsible for copyright violations if they did not explicitly encourage them, and if they let copyright holders take down stuff they did not want up there.

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