Google, Viacom End Long-Running Copyright Feud

Google, Viacom End Long-Running Copyright Feud

With yet another oral argument looming, Viacom Inc. and Google Inc.’s YouTube have inked an out-of-court settlement in their precedent-setting copyright fight over video uploads. It’s hard to declare a winner in the deal, since the terms aren’t public. But the underlying court battle has brought mostly good news for Google and its lawyers at Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati and Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan.

The settlement, first made public on Tuesday, resolves allegations by Viacom that YouTube allowed its users to turn the video-sharing website into a haven for copyright infringement. Viacom, the parent company of TV channels like Comedy Central and Nickelodeon, sought $1 billion in damages from Google, claiming it knowingly turned a blind eye to infringing uploads of Viacom content like the Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

Citing an anonymous source close to the deal, the Financial Times reported that no money changed hands. The companies said in a joint statement that the deal represents a “growing collaborative dialogue” between them.

Viacom brought the case back in 2007, a year after Google acquired YouTube for $1.65 billion. U.S. District Judge Louis Stanton in Manhattan initially dismissed the case in 2010, adopting Google’s arguments that its activities are protected by the “safe harbor” provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. At that point, Google had already racked up $100 million in legal bills.

Stanton’s ruling led to a face-off at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit between Google lawyer Andrew Schapiro of Quinn Emanuel and Viacom counsel Paul Smith of Jenner & Block, who reportedly edged out Theodore Olson of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher for the role.

The Second Circuit revived some of Viacom’s claims in 2012 and instructed Stanton to reconsider whether Google was willfully blind to certain instances of infringement. The appeals court noted an email exchange in which a YouTube board member wrote that the company “would benefit from preemptively removing content that is blatantly illegal … this will help to dispel YouTube’s association with Napster,” a file-sharing service torpedoed by a recording industry lawsuit.

Stanton brushed aside that evidence and dismissed the case once again in April 2013, prompting a new Second Circuit appeal by Viacom. We named Schapiro and his cocounsel David Kramer of Wilson Sonini co–Litigators of the Week for persuading Stanton to toss the case for the second time.

Oral argument in Viacom’s latest appeal had been scheduled for March 24.