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Viacom International Inc. v. YouTube Inc.

July 1, 2008

VIACOM INTERNATIONAL INC., ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
YOUTUBE INC., YOUTUBE LLC, AND GOOGLE INC., DEFENDANTS.
THE FOOTBALL ASSOCIATION PREMIER LEAGUE LIMITED, ET AL., ON BEHALF OF THEMSELVES AND ALL OTHERS SIMILARLY SITUATED, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
YOUTUBE INC., YOUTUBE LLC, AND GOOGLE INC., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Louis L. Stanton, Usdj

OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiffs in these related lawsuits (the "Viacom action" and the "Premier League class action") claim to own the copyrights in specified television programs, motion pictures, music recordings, and other entertainment programs. They allege violations of the Copyright Act of 1976 (17 U.S.C. § 101 et seq.) by defendants YouTube*fn1 and Google Inc., who own and operate the video-sharing website known as "YouTube.com". Plaintiffs claim, as set forth in Viacom's First Amended Complaint ¶¶ 30-31, that:

Defendants encourage individuals to upload videos to the YouTube site, where YouTube makes them available for immediate viewing by members of the public free of charge. Although YouTube touts itself as a service for sharing home videos, the well-known reality of YouTube's business is far different. YouTube has filled its library with entire episodes and movies and significant segments of popular copyrighted programming from Plaintiffs and other copyright owners, that neither YouTube nor the users who submit the works are licensed to use in this manner. Because YouTube users contribute pirated copyrighted works to YouTube by the thousands, including those owned by Plaintiffs, the videos "deliver[ed]" by YouTube include a vast unauthorized collection of Plaintiffs' copyrighted audiovisual works. YouTube's use of this content directly competes with uses that Plaintiffs have authorized and for which Plaintiffs receive valuable compensation. . . . .

When a user uploads a video, YouTube copies the video in its own software format, adds it to its own servers, and makes it available for viewing on its own website. A user who wants to view a video goes to the YouTube site . . . enters search terms into a search and indexing function provided by YouTube for this purpose on its site, and receives a list of thumbnails of videos in the YouTube library matching those terms . . . and the user can select and view a video from the list of matches by clicking on the thumbnail created and supplied by YouTube for this purpose. YouTube then publicly performs the chosen video by sending streaming video content from YouTube's servers to the user's computer, where it can be viewed by the user. Simultaneously, a copy of the chosen video is downloaded from the YouTube website to the user's computer. . . . Thus, the YouTube conduct that forms the basis of this Complaint is not simply providing storage space, conduits, or other facilities to users who create their own websites with infringing materials. To the contrary, YouTube itself commits the infringing duplication, distribution, public performance, and public display of Plaintiffs' copyrighted works, and that infringement occurs on YouTube's own website, which is operated and controlled by Defendants, not users. (Viacom's brackets).

Plaintiffs allege that those are infringements which YouTube and Google induced and for which they are directly, vicariously or contributorily subject to damages of at least $1 billion (in the Viacom action), and injunctions barring such conduct in the future.

Among other defenses, YouTube and Google claim the protection afforded by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 ("DMCA") (17 U.S.C. §§ 512(c)-(d), (i)-(j)), which among other things limits the terms of injunctions, and bars copyright-damage awards, against an online service provider who: (1) performs a qualified storage or search function for internet users; (2) lacks actual or imputed knowledge of the infringing activity; (3) receives no financial benefit directly from such activity in a case where he has the right and ability to control it; (4) acts promptly to remove or disable access to the material when his designated agent is notified that it is infringing; (5) adopts, reasonably implements and publicizes a policy of terminating repeat infringers; and (6) accommodates and does not interfere with standard technical measures used by copyright owners to identify or protect copyrighted works.

Plaintiffs move jointly pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 37 to compel YouTube and Google to produce certain electronically stored information and documents, including a critical trade secret: the computer source code which controls both the YouTube.com search function and Google's internet search tool "Google.com". YouTube and Google cross-move pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(c) for a protective order barring disclosure of that search code, which they contend is responsible for Google's growth "from its founding in 1998 to a multi-national presence with more than 16,000 employees and a market valuation of roughly $150 billion" (Singhal Decl. ¶¶ 3, 11), and cannot be disclosed without risking the loss of the business.

1. Search Code

The search code is the product of over a thousand person-years of work. Singhal Decl. ¶ 9. There is no dispute that its secrecy is of enormous commercial value. Someone with access to it could readily perceive its basic design principles, and cause catastrophic competitive harm to Google by sharing them with others who might create their own programs without making the same investment. Id.

¶ 12. Plaintiffs seek production of the search code to support their claim that "Defendants have purposefully designed or modified the tool to facilitate the location of infringing content." Pls.' Reply 10. However, the predicate for that proposition is that the "tool" treats infringing material differently from innocent material, and plaintiffs offer no evidence that the search function can discriminate between infringing and non-infringing videos.

YouTube and Google maintain that "no source code in existence today can distinguish between infringing and non-infringing video clips -- certainly not without the active participation of rights holders" (Defs.' Cross-Mot. Reply 11), and Google engineer Amitabh Singhal declares under penalty of perjury that:

The search function employed on the YouTube website was not, in any manner, designed or modified to facilitate the location of allegedly infringing materials. The purpose of the YouTube search engine is to allow users to find videos they are looking for by entering text-based search terms. In some instances, the search service suggests search terms when there appears to be a misspelling entered by the user and attempts to distinguish between search terms with multiple meanings. Those functions are automated algorithms that run across Google's services and were not designed to make allegedly infringing video clips more prominent in search results than non-infringing video clips. Indeed, Google has never sought to increase the rank or visibility of allegedly infringing material over non-infringing material when developing its search services.

Singhal Reply Decl. ¶ 2.

Plaintiffs argue that the best way to determine whether those denials are true is to compel production and examination of the search code. Nevertheless, YouTube and Google should not be made to place this vital asset in hazard merely to allay speculation. A plausible showing that YouTube and Google's denials are false, and that the search function can and has been used to discriminate in favor of infringing content, should be required before disclosure of so valuable and vulnerable an asset is compelled.

Nor do plaintiffs offer evidence supporting their conjecture that the YouTube.com search function might be adaptable into a program which filters out infringing videos. Plaintiffs wish to "demonstrate what Defendants have not done but could have" to prevent infringements, Pls.' Reply 12 (plaintiffs' italics), but there may be other ways to show that filtering technology is feasible*fn2 and reasonably could have been put in place.

Finally, the protections set forth in the stipulated confidentiality order are careful and extensive, but nevertheless not as safe as nondisclosure. There is no occasion to rely on them, without a preliminary proper showing justifying production of the search code.

Therefore, the cross-motion for a protective order is granted and the motion to compel production of the search code is denied.

2. Video ID Code

Plaintiffs also move to compel production of another undisputed trade secret, the computer source code for the newly invented "Video ID" program. Using that program, copyright owners may furnish YouTube with video reference samples, which YouTube will use to search for and locate video clips in its library which have characteristics sufficiently matching those of the samples as to suggest infringement. That program's source code is the product of "approximately 50,000 man hours of engineering time and millions of dollars of research and development costs", and maintaining its confidentiality is essential to prevent others from creating competing programs without any equivalent investment, and to bar users who wish to post infringing content onto YouTube.com from learning ways to trick the Video ID program and thus "escape detection." Salem Decl. ¶¶ 8-12.

Plaintiffs claim that they need production of the Video ID source code to demonstrate what defendants "could be doing -- but are not -- to control infringement" with the Video ID program (Pls.' Reply 6). However, plaintiffs can learn how the Video ID program works from use and observation of its operation (Salem Decl. ¶ 13), and examination of pending patent applications, documentation and white papers regarding Video ID (id.), all of which are available to them (see Defs.' Opp. 7). If there is a way to write a program that can identify and thus control infringing videos, plaintiffs are free to demonstrate it, with or without reference to the way the Video ID program works. But the question is what infringement detection operations are possible, not how the Video ID source code makes it operate as it does. The notion that examination of the source code might suggest how to make a better method of infringement detection is speculative. Considered against its value and secrecy, plaintiffs have not made a sufficient showing of need for its disclosure.

Therefore, the motion to compel production of the Video ID ...


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