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YouTube won a major round in the copyright wars this week when Judge Louis Stanton threw out Viacom's $1 billion lawsuit against the video giant.

The ruling noted that online companies must remove known copyright infringements from their sites, but they do not have to police for such things themselves. The result is not only good for YouTube, it's important for any small company depending on user generated content.

Judge Stanton ruled that YouTube is protected by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act's  "safe harbor" provision. It was designed to relieve websites from the burden of checking user-generated material before it's posted.

Another factor in YouTube's favor is the reality that despite complaining about copyright infringement, it came out during the case that Viacom marketers were secretly uploading clips to YouTube.

Of course, it may be in YouTube's best interest to have some copyright infringing content on its site. But it also would be an unneccessary expense for the company to be constantly policing its content when it has enabled companies with the tools to do that themselves.

Furthermore, YouTube thinks it's in the interest of these companies to keep the content up on the site. Google's video portal provides tools for music labels and film studios to profit from their content that gets uploaded to the site from third parties. The fact that some Viacom marketers were putting clips on the site proves how things like this work online.

While media companies don't want other people profiting from their content, they also want people to see it.

Obviously, YouTube is desperate to get more quality content on the site.

Google's video site is encouraging television and music companies to share content on YouTube. Of course, they don't want to upset these companies by putting copyright infringing content up. That's why YouTube complies so readily when it is given copyright complaints. For instance, the site recently deleted various satire videos that riffed on the German film tktk because it suspected the content infringed the German film's copyright.

Much of YouTube's future revenue plans depend on deals with large content companies. In many instances (especially for advertising purposes) they'd prefer professionally condoned content. BUT Google takes a different view to copyright infringement than many video and music companies. They think sharing is a good thing. 

Furthermore, the investment necessary for a company like YouTube to police for all copyright infringements would be pretty substantial. Especially considering that every minute of the day, people post 24 hours' worth of videos to YouTube.

However, Google could likely invest in that area if it needed to appease the courts and media companies. Smaller companies don't have that luxury. Not to mention that it's a close to impossible task to locate and delete every single piece of content that violates someone's copyright online.

A much easier task is to make individual companies responsible for finding their own content online.

It's obvious why YouTube doesn't want to be responsible for policing all copyright infringing content on its site. It also makes sense why record companies may prefer stricter regulation. But as the court decided, if they're the ones concerned about the effects of infringement, they should be the one responsible for finding it.

Meghan Keane

Published 25 June, 2010 by Meghan Keane

Based in New York, Meghan Keane is US Editor of Econsultancy. You can follow her on Twitter: @keanesian.

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