While Viacom’s lawsuit against YouTube gets significantly more press, there was another lawsuit against YouTube that also possessed major implications for the online streaming service: the English Premier League’s. The Premier League (one of the major world soccer leagues for those who don’t follow soccer) attempted to bring a large number of potential plaintiffs (including other sports leagues and various music publishers) into a class action against YouTube. This class got rejected back in May, with the judge referring to the class as a “Frankenstein class.” The Premier League recently dropped their suit, and will focus their legal efforts on live streaming websites (like Justin.tv) instead.
This case actually had some unexpected consequences. The one that fans will enjoy the most is the ability of teams to host their own highlights on YouTube. The Premier League prohibited their members from using YouTube while the lawsuit was ongoing. The judge’s restatement of the basic rule of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), that YouTube can only infringe when they have knowledge of infringement on their site because all content is uploaded by users, is also important. That statement (as paraphrased here) builds on the results of the Viacom case, and reminds copyright holders that they must have some evidence that the site they’re suing knows about the infringement (due to the DMCA’s knowledge requirement). If Viacom or the Premier League can’t satisfy that knowledge requirement, then they can’t succeed when suing a content site like YouTube (assuming a sufficient notice-and-takedown program). Finally, the judge’s logic in rejecting the initial proposed class is very sound. The judge felt that the class was far too broad, and possessed no limiting factor on who could obtain membership beyond the existence of infringement on YouTube. The judge also states that copyright claims tend to make for poor class actions, because of the factual nature of copyright infringement analysis (title, assignment, usability, and fair use get specific mentions in the opinion). Since proving fair use by itself requires very particularized analysis of the facts surrounding particular material, it makes sense that classes would (broadly) not work as well as in other lawsuits.
Not having the class left the Premier League with a much weaker case, since Google (YouTube’s owner) could deal with each of the infringement claims in separate, smaller cases. Now all YouTube has to worry about is Viacom’s appeal.