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Google’s lawyers are confident that the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) offers the Mountain View giant protection against Viacom’s demands. Media conglomerate Viacom, owner of MTV and VH1, filed a suit yesterday against popular video site YouTube and its owner Google, seeking $1B in damages for copyright infringement.

The lawsuit was filed at the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York “for massive intentional copyright infringement of Viacom’s entertainment properties”.

Viacom wants 1 billion dollars from Google and YouTube, also requesting an injunction that would prohibit the two Web giants (which are now one, after Google’s acquisition of YouTube last year for 1.65 billion dollars) from further displaying Viacom’s copyrighted materials on YouTube or on Google Video.

Google immediately responded saying: “We are confident that YouTube has respected the legal rights of copyright holders and believe the courts will agree. YouTube is great for users and offers real opportunities to rights holders: the opportunity to interact with users; to promote their content to a young and growing audience; and to tap into the online advertising market. We will certainly not let this suit become a distraction to the continuing growth and strong performance of YouTube and its ability to attract more users, more traffic and build a stronger community."

YouTube and Google’s lawyers subsequently declared that the DMCA is enough to prove Google’s innocence.

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is a United States copyright law which criminalizes production and dissemination of technology whose primary purpose is to circumvent measures that control access to copyrighted works and criminalizes the act of circumventing an access control, even when there is no infringement of copyright itself. It also heightens the penalties for copyright infringement on the Internet. Passed on October 8, 1998 by a unanimous vote in the United States Senate and signed into law by President Bill Clinton on October 28, 1998, the DMCA amended title 17 of the U.S. Code to extend the reach of copyright, while limiting the liability of Online Providers from copyright infringement by their users.

On May 22, 2001, the European Union passed the EU Copyright Directive or EUCD, similar in many ways to the DMCA.

"Here there is a law which is specifically designed to give Web hosts such as us, or... bloggers or people that provide photo-album hosting online ... the 'safe harbor' we need in order to be able to do hosting online," said Alexander Macgillivray, Google's associate general counsel for products and intellectual property, during an interview with Reuters.

"We will never launch a product or acquire a company unless we are completely satisfied with its legal basis for operating," Macgillivray added.

Viacom’s complaint contends that almost 160,000 unauthorized clips from its cable networks, which include MTV, Comedy Central, VH1 and Nickelodeon have been posted illegally on YouTube and that these clips had been viewed more than 1.5 billion times.

Viacom is especially at risk of losing money from advertisement when its content is displayed on YouTube, since many of its popular shows, like The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, The Colbert Report or South Park, are aimed at younger audiences, which are also heavy Internet users.

Viacom slammed YouTube’s copyright policy saying that: “YouTube is a significant, for-profit organization that has built a lucrative business out of exploiting the devotion of fans to others’ creative works in order to enrich itself and its corporate parent Google.  Their business model, which is based on building traffic and selling advertising off of unlicensed content, is clearly illegal and is in obvious conflict with copyright laws.  In fact, YouTube’s strategy has been to avoid taking proactive steps to curtail the infringement on its site, thus generating significant traffic and revenues for itself while shifting the entire burden – and high cost – of monitoring YouTube onto the victims of its infringement.”

Notwithstanding Viacom’s accusations, Macgillivray is confident that Google will win, citing also a previous dismissal of another copyright lawsuit, filed by Nevada attorney Blake Field.

"This is an area of law where there are a bunch of really clear precedents, so Amazon and eBay have both been found to qualify for the safe harbor and there are a whole bunch more," Macgillivray said.

"We will continue to innovate and continue to host material for people, without being distracted by this suit."

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