MOUNTAIN VIEW, California – Viacom Inc.'s (VIA) copyright infringement suit against Google Inc. (GOOG) and its YouTube video-sharing unit strikes at the heart of how the Internet works, Google argued on Monday in a U.S. federal court filing.
Responding in the filing to Viacom's more-than-$1 billion lawsuit, the Web search leader denied virtually all the claims, including that the popular video-watching site was engaged in "massive intentional copyright infringement."
"By seeking to make carriers and hosting providers liable for Internet communications, Viacom's complaint threatens the way hundreds of millions of people legitimately exchange information, news, entertainment and political and artistic expression," Google said in answer to Viacom's March 13 suit.
Google demands a jury trial to respond to allegations in the media conglomerate's lawsuit, according to legal papers filed on Monday with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York and provided to reporters by the company.
Philip Beck of law firm Bartlit Beck, who argued President George W. Bush's side in the Florida vote-counting case following the 2000 election, is one of the attorneys from two outside firms named to represent Google. The Chicago-based attorney also defended Merck (MRK) in the Vioxx drug case.
Wilson Sonsini, Silicon Valley's best-known law firm, and a frequent outside counsel for Google, is also joining the team.
DEFENSE: "ABOVE AND BEYOND WHAT LAW REQUIRES"
As expected, Google's defense against allegations of failing to prevent YouTube users from pirating hundreds of thousands of clips from Viacom programming hinges on legal protections afforded by a 1998 copyright protection law.
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) limits liability for Internet service providers that act quickly to block access to pirated online materials, once the copyright holder notifies a Web site of specific acts of infringement.
Viacom's suit challenges the "careful balance established by Congress," Google responded. "The DMCA balances the rights of copyright holders and the need to protect the Internet."
During its controversial nine-year history, the DMCA has acted as the legal standard defining U.S. copyright law in the digital age, offering a defense widely relied upon by Internet companies to protect themselves against copyright actions.
"Google and YouTube respect the importance of intellectual property rights, and not only comply with their safe harbor obligations under the DMCA, but go well above and beyond what the law requires," Google's legal response states.
But a Viacom spokesman countered: "This response ignores the most important fact of the suit, which is that YouTube does not qualify for safe harbor protection under the DMCA."
Michael Kwun, Google's managing counsel for litigation, said in an interview at its Silicon Valley headquarters that the company already offers copyright holders several technologies to identify pirated video. But he declined to specify a timeline for when Google will make so-called "video fingerprinting" technologies available to media rights owners.
Google's filing takes a technical approach to questions raised by the lawsuit, leaving aside questions of precedent or indications of eventual legal strategy for later proceedings. Motions for summary judgment and other legal moves would only occur at a later stage, Kwun said.
However, Kwun told reporters that Google intends to cite a series of decisions in favor of Amazon.com Inc. and eBay Inc. which have upheld the DMCA's "safe harbor" protections for Internet services hosting third-party content.
The next round will be a case management hearing in the Manhattan court of Judge Louis Stanton on July 27, he said.
In public forums over the past month, Google Chief Executive Eric Schmidt has repeatedly labeled Viacom's suit as a "negotiating tactic."
Kwun said high-level contacts between the two sides' legal teams had taken place in recent weeks, but he denied the companies have held settlement talks since the suit was filed.
"This is a lawsuit we think should never have been brought," Kwun said. "We think Viacom will conclude the same thing."