Class action filed against Google, YouTube

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Google and YouTube have been hit with a proposed class-action lawsuit by England's Football Association Premier League Ltd. and independent music publisher Bourne Co., alleging massive copyright infringement and encouraging other content owners whose videos have appeared on YouTube to join the suit.

"Defendants are pursuing a deliberate strategy of engaging in, permitting, encouraging and facilitating massive copyright infringement on the YouTube Web site," the lawsuit states.

The complaint, filed Friday in New York federal court, alleges that YouTube has purposely refused to remove copyrighted works from its site or employ "readily available technology" to prevent the infringement. Google, which bought the site in November for $1.65 billion, encourages YouTube to continue allowing copyrighted works to be posted by users, the lawsuit claims.

A spokesman for Google could not be immediately reached for comment.

The plaintiffs allege that YouTube and Google are able to identify copyrighted material and remove it as well as employ a filter system to prevent posting of infringing material but have failed to do so.

"From what I understand, YouTube will provide filtering to parties who are willing to license their content to YouTube on terms that are acceptable to YouTube," said the plaintiffs' lead attorney, William Hart of Proskauer Rose in New York. "YouTube is not offering filtering to content across the board. Although they say it's coming to larger copyright owners, they already acknowledge they have this technology for a preferred group, but they're not doing that, and should, for other copyright owners."

The Premier League is the most popular division of English soccer and is viewed in 204 countries. According to the complaint, several infringing clips have been posted almost immediately after games, including April matches between Manchester United and Everton and Middlesbrough and Tottenham.

Bourne claims its musical works are frequently posted on the site, including Jimmy Durante singing "Inka Dinka Doo" and Diana Krall singing "Let's Fall in Love." Many of Bourne's compositions allegedly were still posted at the time of the lawsuit's filing.

Hart said YouTube has taken more than seven days to take down infringing material even though the Digital Millennium Copyright Act requires an expeditious removal.

"If they're told this particular work is infringing, they take it down," he said. "Then, if someone reposts it, we're starting all over again. Once someone tries to post it again, it should be filtered out rather than going over the whole exercise again."

In the case of the Premier League, Hart said it has become a full-time job for someone at the organization to send notices to YouTube on a daily basis.

The proposed class action, he said, includes "any copyright owner who has not given any authorization for their content to appear" on YouTube. A Web site has been established, www.youtubeclassaction.com, to recruit potential members of the suit.

Hart believes that the case most likely will be consolidated with the recent lawsuit filed against YouTube and Google by Viacom. A separate infringement case against YouTube brought by photojournalist Robert Tur is pending in California.

In the Viacom case, filed in March in New York federal court, the media conglomerate is seeking more than $1 billion in damages and has identified more than 100,000 copyrighted clips posted without permission.

In an answer filed Monday, Google cites the safe harbor provisions in the DMCA as a defense.

"By seeking to make carriers and hosting providers liable for Internet communications, Viacom's complaint threatens the way hundreds of millions of people legitimately exchange information, news, entertainment and political and artistic expression," the defendants said in the response. "Google and YouTube respect the importance of intellectual property rights and not only comply with their safe harbor obligations under the DMCA but go well above and beyond what the law requires."

Google is making a similar argument in the Tur case.

In a statement released after Google's answer was filed, Viacom said: "This response ignores the most important fact of the suit, which is that YouTube does not qualify for safe harbor protection under the DMCA. It is obvious that YouTube has knowledge of infringing material on their site, and they are profiting from it."

Leslie Simmons is a senior staff writer for The Hollywood Reporter, ESQ.
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