Judge Denies Copyright Class Action Against YouTube

Robert Kyncl

In a nearly six-year-old dispute, U.S. District Judge Louis Stanton won't allow a large number of copyright owners to pursue YouTube in a massive class action.

The lawsuit was brought by a group of plaintiffs including U.K.'s professional soccer league, several music publishers and other rightsholders. The complaint was filed around the same time that Viacom filed its own billion dollar claims against YouTube, and like the Viacom case, an appeals court revived it last year after Judge Stanton's summary judgment dismissal in 2010.

But now, Judge Stanton has denied class certification. It's just too much to manage, he says.

In his ruling on Wednesday, the judge opens by quoting a 45-year-old remark about a "Frankenstein monster posing as a class action."

The judge continues by explaining that "copyright claims are poor candidates for class action treatment" and "the suggestion that a class action of these dimensions can be managed with judicial resourcefulness is flattering, but unrealistic."

He notes some "superficial similarities" in the claims of various plaintiffs, such as proof of ownership, an illicit posting on YouTube and allegations of no fair use and the ISP's awareness of the infringement, but says that this "merely identifies some of the issues, each of which must be resolved upon facts which are particular to that single claim of infringement, and separate from all the other claims. Thus, accumulation of all the copyright claims, and claimants, into one action will not simplify or unify the process of their resolution, but multiply its difficulties over the normal one-by-one adjudications of copyright cases."

He also rejects attempts by the plaintiffs to split the class action into two "issues" subclasses comprising a "Repeat Infringement Class" and a "Music Publisher Class."

Judge Stanton still sees too much work for one judge -- or as he puts it, it represents an "unmanageable aggregation of individual claims, better dealt with separately."

As has been Judge Stanton's style in the YouTube rulings -- including the one last month that rejected Viacom's claims for a second time -- his opinion is rather short. This one clocks in at just 13 pages. Here's the full ruling.

A lawyer for the plaintiffs tells Reuters that they are "going to think about their options," including an appeal.

Email: eriq.gardner@thr.com; Twitter: @eriqgardner