Google has said it will defend itself against a $1 billion lawsuit filed by media conglomerate Viacom and has asked a judge to throw the case out without a full trial.
Viacom is suing Google for copyright infringement over the posting of video clips on YouTube, which is owned by Google. Viacom owns television stations MTV, Comedy Central and Nickelodeon and says in its suit that YouTube's business is built on copyright infringement.
Viacom filed the lawsuit in March and Google has just lodged its response. The search giant has demanded that the case be dismissed without a trial.
Google's defence rests on the 'safe harbor' provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which protect a company from liability for copyright infringement if it is just the medium by which others post unlawful content.
The safe harbor rules protect a company as long as it takes down offending material "expeditiously" when it is notified about it. Google takes down infringing material from YouTube when contacted by copyright owners.
In its filing, Google says that removing that protection would be disastrous for many internet companies. “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," the filing said.
Google's managing counsel for litigation told the New York Times newspaper that it had not discussed a settlement with Viacom and was not likely to. "We feel pretty confident about the case and are ready to take it to court,” he said.
The case makes similar claims to a European newspaper case taken by Belgian trade body Copiepresse. Both cases allege that Google profits from making use of copyright material without permission as a matter of course, only taking material down when asked on a specific basis.
Both Copiepresse and Viacom believe that the company should be made to ask permission ahead of using material and not wait to be told to stop after the fact. Copiepresse recently won a case in a Belgian court relating to the Google News service.
Viacom has said that it believes that safe harbor protection is not available to YouTube, and that the site does not qualify for that protection. It says that the company has knowledge of infringing material on its site and is profiting from it.
Content owners have called for YouTube and other sites on which copyrighted material is posted to develop filters to weed out copyright-protected content. Google has said in recent weeks that it has developed tools to help copyright owners to identify their material so that they can request that it be taken off of the site.