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Labels score some victories in long-running Vimeo dispute

By | Published on Monday 23 September 2013


A federal judge in New York has issued a summary judgement on a long-running dispute between the US record industry and video-sharing website Vimeo which, while actually finding in favour of the video site more than it finds against it, includes two significant victories for the record labels.

The US industry, led by Capitol (then part of EMI, now part of Universal), first sued Vimeo in 2009, claiming that the video site routinely hosted videos containing uncleared sound recordings and in doing so infringed its copyrights.

Unsurprisingly, Vimeo said that, while it did indeed routinely host unlicensed music on its site, it was cleared of liability because of the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which provides a safe harbour for tech firms which inadvertently enable others to infringe providing they remove infringing content if made aware of it.

The Capitol lawsuit claimed that Vimeo’s DMCA takedown system was insufficient in various ways, but in her summary judgement last week judge Ronnie Abrams did not concur, ruling that in the main the video firm did as much as it was required to do under the DMCA to remove infringing content when instructed to do so by rights owners (although the DMCA itself is pretty vague on the issue, numerous US courts have generally ruled that a very basic takedown system is sufficient to get the safe harbour protection).

However, Abrams has ruled that the copyright infringement claim relating to 55 of the 199 videos listed in Capitol’s lawsuit can proceed to a full trial, because in those 55 cases staff members at Vimeo interacted with the offending video in some way, such as ‘liking’ them, commenting on them, or featuring them in curated playlists.

The suggestion here is that, while under the DMCA the Vimeo team isn’t obligated to monitor all of the millions of videos uploaded to its system for copyright violations, their might be an obligation to remove copyright infringing material, even without a takedown request, if discovered by staff members through other activities.

Although Abrams is careful not to be drawn either way on this question, if a subsequent court was to rule that way, it could force other user-upload sites to rethink the ways their staff interact with uploaded content.

The other area where the labels prevail in the summary judgement, and this one without further deliberations in court, is the increasingly important issue of pre-1972 catalogue.

As much previously reported, sound recording copyrights in the US that originate from before 1972 are protected by state rather than federal law, which has led many rights owners to argue that provisions in the DMCA – as a piece of federal law – do not apply, so that the safe-harbours assured by efficient takedowns are not available.

And on that issue, Abrams is with the labels, which poses interesting challenges for Vimeo et al, which in theory are now obliged to automatically remove any recordings uploaded by users that originate from before 1972.

Vimeo is yet to comment.