Veoh’s “safe harbor” protects it from copyright suit

A unanimous ruling by a federal appeals panel in California to protect file-sharing websites from copyright infringement suits is the first of its kind at that level. Veoh Networks overcame a challenge by Universal Music Group that alleged Veoh allowed copyrighted material to be uploaded by users.

Veoh is a 5-year-old file-sharing site that warns participating users to adhere to copyright law. The Internet company uses a software filter that has removed tens of thousands of videos featuring copyrighted material, a practice Universal felt was faulty.

Universal launched the infringement lawsuit in 2007, claiming Veoh was aware, or should have been aware, that uploaded videos contained copyrighted video or audio. The popular streaming video website YouTube is facing similar action by Viacom in a case being considering by another federal panel.

The judges’ panel on the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco upheld a lower court’s ruling, absolving Veoh for its users’ mistakes as long as it removed copyrighted material from its site once it was discovered.

The judges stated Veoh was in “safe harbor” under the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which forbids publishers from suing file-sharing websites for infringement as long as disputed material is unknowingly uploaded and the website takes action to delete it. Veoh admitted to the court that some copyrighted videos slipped past its filter, but Universal’s argument the Veoh wasn’t trying hard enough was disputed by the judges.

The panel agreed that Veoh was in compliance with intellectual property law and chided Universal for not contacting Veoh when it saw copyrighted material on the file-sharing site. One judge defended Veoh as a service provider who could not be expected to identify every copyrighted item in a publisher’s library.

But the ruling does not mean that there will not be other lawsuits like it in the future. Intellectual property and copyright law is extremely complex, and there are sure to be more legal battles.

Source: San Francisco Chronicle, “Court’s file-sharing ruling favors Veoh Networks,” Bob Egelko, Dec. 21, 2011