The US record industry last week filed court papers asking for a summary judgement in its favour regarding a long-running copyright dispute with video website Vimeo.
The labels, led by EMI, sued Vimeo in 2009, claiming that the video site infringed their copyrights by allowing users to upload music containing recordings owned by the record companies without licence. But the litigation was delayed pending the outcome of Viacom’s lawsuit against YouTube, which would test the copyright obligations of video sharing websites like Vimeo and YouTube under America’s Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
Vimeo and YouTube, like all sites that allow users to upload content, argue that they operate takedown systems, removing unlicensed content if made aware of it by copyright owners, and thus have ‘safe harbour’ protections from the DMCA against infringement actions. Many copyright owners, though, argue that web companies have a more general obligation to act if they are aware of widespread infringement on their networks, beyond reacting to takedown requests from copyright owners.
In 2011, the US courts issued a summary judgement in favour of YouTube regards its legal battle with Viacom (which relates to YouTube’s management of copyright materials in its early years), thus siding with the web companies over the copyright owners on this issue. But then last June an appeals court revived Viacom v YouTube, and while the lawsuit was passed to a lower court for new consideration, the appeals judges also expressed some opinions regards the obligations of Vimeo-type companies.
And while there is still much debate in legal circles on this topic, the labels’ lawyers reckon that comments in the appeal court ruling are sufficient to find Vimeo liable for copyright infringement for the videos it has hosted containing unlicensed music. Though Vimeo, owned by former Ticketmaster owner IAC, has filed its own new motion requesting a summary judgement in its favour.
Unlike YouTube, which did licensing deals with the major music companies (hence why the case against it was led by MTV owners Viacom), Vimeo has no ambitions to become a music video jukebox, instead seeing itself as a service-provider to film-makers. In recent years Vimeo has started pointing video producers in the direction of low-cost music licensing options, which would ensure a user’s videos were legit and not subject to takedown requests from record labels and music publishers. But if this lawsuit goes in the labels’ favour, the digital firm may have to do much more to ensure unlicensed audio doesn’t slip through its systems.