Maria Schneider, et al. v. YouTube LLC, et al.
USDC ND Cal August 1, 2022
The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California recently denied defendant YouTube’s motion to dismiss the first amended complaint filed by Grammy award-winning musician Maria Schneider in her copyright infringement class action against the popular video streaming platform.
The case concerns access to YouTube’s Content ID, a copyright management tool that allows owners to block uploads of infringing works. As YouTube’s help pages explain, however, “YouTube only grants Content ID to copyright owners who meet specific criteria. To be approved, they must own exclusive rights to a substantial body of original material that is frequently uploaded to YouTube.”
The tool’s benefits are substantial. When new videos are uploaded, they are automatically scanned against a database of audio and visual content submitted by the copyright owners. If a match is found, the new video is blocked. Copyright owners who don’t meet the Content ID criteria must constantly search for alleged infringement of their work, a difficult situation to say the least given the vast hours of new content uploaded daily. The lawsuit essentially alleges that YouTube’s disparate application of Content ID contributes to infringement by making it impossible for users who are not allowed access to Content ID to police their copyrights, “resulting in widespread piracy and infringement that they cannot meaningfully address.”
A copyright infringement claim requires a plaintiff to allege ownership of the allegedly infringed material and a violation by defendants of one of the exclusive rights conferred by the Copyright Act. YouTube argued that the plaintiffs failed to sufficiently plead ownership in that certain feature films claimed were not registered with the Copyright Office (a requirement for an infringement claim) before the original complaint was filed. The films were, however, registered before the first amended complaint was filed. The court noted some authority for the position that a later pleading cannot cure a failure to meet the copyright registration requirement in the original pleading. But the court found no need to address that issue since other works claimed in the original complaint were properly registered.
YouTube also argued that the plaintiffs failed to allege that it knowingly removed copyright management information (“CMI”) from videos uploaded by owners not permitted to use Content ID. As such, the company contended, it could not be liable for violating 17 U.S.C. § 1292(b), which prohibits removing CMI where one knows or reasonably should know that doing so will enable copyright infringement. But the court likewise rejected that argument. It found that the first amended complaint alleged constructive knowledge in alleging that YouTube knew that uploaded audio and video works routinely contain CMI, and that CMI is valuable for protecting copyright owners. The court found it plausible to infer YouTube’s knowledge that enabling distribution of works with missing CMI carried a substantial risk of inducing copyright infringement.
Denial of YouTube’s motion to dismiss means case will now continue in litigation. DeepFocus Entertainment Law’s Film and Television Law Update will continue to follow it and summarize further proceedings. Questions about blocking infringing works on YouTube if you don’t have access to Content ID, responding to copyright infringement claims against your work, clearing copyright in your film or television project, or protecting your intellectual property rights? Contact DeepFocus Law at (503) 975-8298 or schedule an entertainment attorney consultation.
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