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English football league sues YouTube

The English Premier League, the top football division in England, has sued YouTube for copyright infringement. The case is the latest by a major rights owning business against the Google-owned video sharing site.08 May 2007

The Football Association Premier League, which is behind the Premiership, has filed its case in the District Court for the Southern District of New York. It claims that YouTube is profiting from a knowing violation of its copyright in the league and in footage of games in that league.

"[The] defendants, which own and operate the website, have knowingly misappropriated and exploited this valuable property for their own gain without payment or license to the owners of the intellectual property," said the claim made to the Court. "Defendants have continued and will continue their brazen acts of wilful copyright infringement unless enjoined by this Court."

The claim is a class action lawsuit on behalf of the Premier League and music publisher Bourne Co and "all other similarly situated", according to Court documents.

The case attacks the defence which Google and YouTube have always used when attacked: that it is entitled to "safe harbor" protection under the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DCMA), which means that it does not have to pre-check content it allows to be put on YouTube.

To enjoy "safe harbor" protection, a service provider must take down infringing material when told of its existence, which YouTube claims it does.

"Fully aware that this business model violates laws protecting the copyrighted content that they have misappropriated on a massive scale, defendants have adopted a cynical and self-congratulatory strategy designed to perpetuate the unlawful exploitation of the Class's valuable property rights," says the claim.

"For example, defendants have feigned blindness and an inability to reduce the wholesale infringement that occurs, constantly and unremittingly, every day on the YouTube website, distorting the balance created by Congress and forcing the victims – the content producers themselves – to go through the meaningless exercise of pointing out to defendants what defendants plainly already know: that there is copyrighted material being exploited on the YouTube website without the authorization of the rights owners."

The claim says that YouTube should not qualify for "safe harbor" protection because it is not merely 'storing' material at the request of a user. "Defendants take multiple voluntary acts to encourage and/or facilitate infringing activity, including (without limitation) by creating, on behalf of users, the HTML code necessary to 'embed' videos on other sites," it says.

The suit requests a court injunction to stop YouTube displaying content belonging to the League and Bourne, and payment of the companies' legal costs and punitive damages.

The case follows a similar one lodged by media giant Viacom earlier this year, in which that company claims damages of $1 billion.