Massachusetts Legal Developments Blog

Plaintiffs Seeking Class Certification in YouTube Copyright Suit Dealt Major Blow by Court

A ruling from the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York affirms at least one Judge’s view that class action status is not appropriate for plaintiffs in copyright infringement suits. Ars Technica reports that Judge Louis Stanton denied class certification to a massive group of plaintiffs seeking to hold YouTube liable for copyright infringement in Football Association Premier League, Ltd. et al, v. YouTube Inc. et al.  The proposed class would include those individuals or entities with ownership over copyrighted work that was posted without permission on YouTube on or after April 15, 2005. The suit runs parallel to a suit commenced in 2007, Viacom v. YouTube. Ultimately, Judge Stanton ruled in favor of YouTube on a Motion for Summary Judgment in that case.

In the current case, numerous plaintiffs, including the Football Association Premier League Limited, the Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization, and the National Music Publishers’ Association, among others, would be required to fit into two subclasses of victims. The first subclass would include those copyright owners who asked YouTube to take allegedly infringing material off of the site, but it remained on the site or was reposted. The second class would include music publishers whose material was allegedly infringed even though YouTube “knew or should have known” about the alleged infringement.

Under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, cited by Judge Stanton, there are several prerequisites to class status. First, the class must include so many plaintiffs that joinder would be impracticable. Second, there must be common questions of law and fact as to members of the class. Third, the claims or defenses of the parties representing the class must be typical to those of the class. Finally, fourth, representatives must fairly and adequately represent the members of the class.

According to NBC News, Judge Stanton ruled that copyright claims are “poor candidates for class-action treatment” due to the unique and fact-intensive analysis required for each claim. In the same report cited above,  Ars Technica further noted that Judge Stanton held that the nature of copyrightable works is that they are each unique, and that the issues of “title, assignment, waiver and fair use,” which are part of the Copyright statute, require individualized analysis. Judge Stanton also noted that economic need was not a justification for granting class status because the statutory damages scheme was put in place to give “litigation value” to each individual plaintiff. Finally, on a different note, Judge Stanton established that he had already reviewed similar issues in the Viacom case.

NBC News noted that Viacom has not completely given up and has filed to appeal Judge Stanton’s ruling. The attorney in the instant case stated that his clients are weighing their options, and may decide to appeal Judge Stanton’s decision.

The Copyright Law statute provides for serious penalties for copyright infringement. If you have been contacted by anyone regarding alleged copyright infringement, contact an experienced copyright law attorney today.