Veoh Scores Legal Victory for Video Sharing Sites

While a victory, the EFF notes it may also just be a footnote in a long list of lawsuits against user generated sites.

Note: This is an article I wrote that was published elsewhere first. It has been republished here for archival purposes

The EFF is currently highlighting a new legal victory for video sharing sites. The case is known as the UMG vs. Veoh case where UMG sued video sharing site Veoh for the activities of it’s users – some of which uploaded copyright infringing material on the site.

Veoh argued that their activities of offering a medium to post content falls under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s “Safe harbour” provisions which says that, among other things, that internet services are not liable for the actions of their users – a provision that seems to be glossed over like a mere suggestion these days with the copyright industry demanding ISPs to fight copyright infringement.

UMG (Universal Music Group) counter argued, saying that hosting companies should be liable for every bit a user uploads.

All too often when these cases come up, user generated websites are frequently branded as little more than a vehicle for copyright infringement. Like the internet itself, when one makes an argument that labels, say, a video sharing site as something simple like a medium for piracy, it’s far too easy to argue many ways in which that given site is not. Examples of possible counter arguments include the fact that it’s a learning tool (plug in virtually any software product and add “tutorial” to see what we mean), or an independent musician site (OK-Go is one of the more famous examples of musicians jump-starting their careers with a viral video), a website for magicians (where magic tricks are often a popular keyword), a gaming website (where speedrun is a good keyword for something like this), a tool for businesses to host video content (many businesses like small town newspapers are jumping onto YouTube to post their small town journalism reports, or a cleverly well produced advertisement for companies like BlendTec for their rather famous ‘Will it Blend?’ series), or even an education tool where students can post final projects like animations. Pretty much anything in general one can think of is more than likely posted on a video-sharing site.

Still, it’s an effective weapon the copyright industry has against such sites by saying that users just go there to pirate their content as it gives them a public relations edge that actually works for a lot of people. Make everyone think that people just go there just to watch music videos and there will be those that will easily believe them.

The EFF concludes with the following:

Relying on the statutory language, as well as the legislative history, the court concluded that all of these activities are covered by the DMCA Section 512(c) safe harbor. Lots of online service providers will greet this ruling with relief. If the court had accepted UMG’s arguments, every web host would lose the safe harbor as soon as it made web pages available to the public. The ruling should also help YouTube in its ongoing battle with Viacom, which also turns on the continuing strength of the DMCA safe harbors.

But the Veoh ruling also points out a surprising irony: while YouTube and Viacom are fighting their interminable litigation trench war, many interesting DMCA legal questions are being resolved in smaller, faster-moving cases involving companies like Veoh. At this rate, the highly-anticipated Viacom v. YouTube lawsuit may end up a footnote in the legal fights that define the rules governing user-generated content.

It might be worth noting that the legal battles going on with the DMCA in the United States will more than likely be little more than the tip of the iceberg with legal questions being raised with video sharing sites since many broadcasters from around the world have also sued YouTube for copyright infringement. As much as the copyright industry likes to, from time to time, believe that the US laws apply to other countries, the DMCA only covers US cases and international cases will be far more complex. Worst case scenario in the future, some countries will end up being either blocked by or blocking YouTube due to a court decision not deciding in a video-sharing sites favour. It’ll have a negative effect on video sharing sites, but it’s unlikely that it’ll be a fatal one – especially if the lawsuits in the US end up failing to take down YouTube (and YouTube’s position seems to be more favourable as a result of this legal victory).

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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