Ever since Viacom first filed a lawsuit accusing Google's YouTube of violating copyright law, most of Hollywood has appeared determined to stay neutral. That seems to be changing.
Over the past several days, NBC Universal, Warner Bros., Disney, the Screen Actors Guild, and Directors Guild of America have all filed friend-of-the-court briefs asking the judge in the three-year-old case to rule in favor of Viacom. The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), one of the music industry's largest performing rights groups also filed documents in support of Viacom.
"We are pleased that such a broad group of guilds and unions, content owners, rights organizations, and public policy groups have made their support clear for Viacom's position in our case against YouTube," a Viacom spokesman said in a statement. "These important groups plainly recognize that YouTube's disregard for copyright benefits only Google."
Viacom accused Google and YouTube in March 2007 of encouraging copyright infringement and now much of the film industry is telling the judge that the Digital Millennium Copyright Act's safe harbor provisions don't protect YouTube, acquired by Google in 2006, from responsibility for the infringement on the site.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation and the American Library Association filed their own amicus documents on behalf of Google, which on Tuesday defended its legal position.
"The courts have repeatedly rejected these arguments (from copyright owners)," a YouTube spokesman said. "Congress passed the DMCA to promote new ways for people to share their ideas and new forms of expression. We are confident that the court will do the same in this case."
A group of copyright owners rushing to the defense of Viacom, parent company of Paramount Pictures and MTV Networks, may not seem like a big surprise. But over the past few years, YouTube has built strong ties to many of the groups now backing Viacom.
YouTube has a licensing agreement with Disney. The video-sharing site's antipiracy efforts over the past two years have been applauded by NBC Universal execs. YouTube has licensing deals with numerous record labels, which are represented by ASCAP.
YouTube was once considered a "rogue" company by some in the music and film sectors, but Google has done much to woo content providers. Nothing was more important than the building of a filtering system that YouTube now uses to keep unauthorized content off the site.
It's likely that some of these copyright owners fear that a Google-YouTube victory in the Viacom case could mean an unfavorable legal precedent. Google has said many times that the DMCA's safe harbor protects Internet service providers from responsibility for copyright violations committed by users. The search engine has said that without those protections, services like eBay, Craigslist, and Comcast couldn't survive.
The main arguments of those who support Viacom are that the DMCA was created to protect copyright owners and that the DMCA's safe harbor did not provide protections for companies that had knowledge of copyright infringement and profited from it.
Viacom vs. Google continues to wind through the courts and is expected to be concluded later this year.