Viacom Lawsuit Against YouTube Alive Again Thanks to Appeal

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Photo: Kimihiro Hoshino/AFP/Getty Images

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled today that Google should answer for copyright violations on its video site, deciding that "a reasonable jury could find that YouTube had actual knowledge or awareness of specific infringing activity on its website." The appeal reversed a 2010 decision that went YouTube's way in the $1 billion lawsuit filed by Viacom, along with additional film studios and TV networks. "It's hard to characterize this as anything other than a loss for Google, and potentially a significant one," a law expert told Reuters. "It has given new life to a case that Google thought was dead."

In a statement, Viacom said the appeals court "delivered a definitive, common sense message to YouTube: intentionally ignoring theft is not protected by the law." Google responded: "All that is left of the Viacom lawsuit that began as a wholesale attack on YouTube is a dispute over a tiny percentage of videos long ago removed from YouTube. Nothing in this decision impacts the way YouTube is operating."

Sumner Redstone's conglomerate charges that its content, including stoner favorites like South Park and The Daily Show, were uploaded to YouTube without permission, and that the site may have used "willful blindness" to let the videos stay. The case could now go to trial, although Google will likely move for it to be thrown out again. Today's decision comes courtesy of a strange, two-judge 2nd Circuit panel: "The third judge on the YouTube case died while the case was pending."

The original lawsuit was filed in 2007, and relations between the two companies have improved some since: Just yesterday, YouTube announced it would carry 500 films for rental from Paramount, which is owned by Viacom. This, meanwhile, is an enduring example of fair use:

Related: YouTube Versus Boob Tube [NYM]