The latest ruling in a copyright case brought against Google (NSDQ: GOOG) and its YouTube subsidiary doesn’t move the needle much on the core issue but it means the bill should be lower if — and that’s still a big if — the company loses in court. The English Premier League started a class-action suit against Google and YouTube back in May 2007, a few months after Viacom (NYSE: VIA) sued for $1 billion; it was joined by music publishers and the case now has 15 plaintiffs. The sports and music companies claim that sports and concert material was being posted on YouTube without permission and that the foreign material was governed by U.S. copyright law without registration.
U.S. District Judge Louis Stanton ruled late last week, though, that claims for statutory damages on unregistered material would be limited to works that qualify under the Copyright Act’s “live broadcast exemption” and dismissed any call for punitive damages under the Copyright Act. (Just to give a sense of how arcane this can get, the ruling doesn’t cover pre-1972 sound recordings under state law or infringements covered by foreign law — that’s been deferred.)
But the judge allowed the inclusion of hundreds of examples the Premier League offered of instances where it had served the kind of advance notice required to YouTube that could be covered under the “live broadcast exemption.” Judge Stanton already had ruled last year that Viacom can’t get punitive damages because the Copyright Act of 1976 doesn’t include that as an option.
The plaintiffs are trying to position this as a win, since it allows for the registration exemption in certain cases.