Grammy Award Winner Sues Youtube for Fostering a “Hotbed of Copyright Infringement”

Maria Schneider and Pirate Monitor, LTD have filed a class action lawsuit against Youtube, Google, and Alphabet, Inc. (collectively referred to as Google) for copyright piracy on Google’s giant video platform, Youtube.  While most people might be familiar with Google and Youtube, Alphabet is the multinational conglomerate / holding company that Google created to be the parent company over everything that Google does and over all of its subsidiary companies.

Schneider and Pirate (the Plaintiffs) are accusing Youtube of “facilitat[ing] and induc[ing] this hotbed of copyright infringement through its development and implementation of a copyright enforcement system that protects only the most powerful copyright owners such as major studios and record labels.” The Plaintiffs label themselves as “ordinary creators” with no “meaningful opportunity to prevent YouTube’s public display of works that infringe their copyrights.”

It is very ironic that Plaintiffs would label themselves as “ordinary creators” when by their own description in the complaint filed, Schneider is a “multiple Grammy award-winning composer and musician,” which many could reasonably argue, is far from ‘ordinary.’ Schneider claims that she and other copyright holders like her are “relegated to vastly inferior and time-consuming manual means of trying to police and manage their copyrights such as scanning the entirety of Youtube postings, searching for keywords, titles, and other potential identifiers.”

The Plaintiffs further accuse Google of deliberately designing Youtube to “enable and facilitate copyright infringement,” and of permitting widespread copyright infringement across Youtube’s platform because they make more money from it. They claim that Google has determined that the Plaintiffs “lack the resources and leverage necessary to combat copyright infringement on the scale at which it is perpetuated on Youtube.” It is worth noting that Google did not design nor did they originally create Youtube; it purchased Youtube from its owners on November 13, 2006 for $1.65 billion.

The Plaintiffs are confidently making some very bold claims in their complaint. They are demanding the “maximum statutory damages pursuant to 17 U.S.C. § 504(c),” Google’s profits from the acts of infringement, their costs and attorney’s fees, a permanent injunction requiring Google to “employ reasonable methodologies to prevent or limit infringement of Plaintiffs’ [] copyrights,” and for Google to remove / take down all of the works that are labeled as infringing. They accuse Google of willfully, intentionally, purposefully, and completely disregarding and remaining indifferent to Plaintiffs copyrights, and therefore, should be disqualified from any DMCA safe harbor protections.

The issue of Youtube’s handling of copyright disputes has always been a complicated one. Major companies, and both small and large record labels have argued that Youtube allows for widespread copyright infringement because it draws in people to watch or listen to content on the platform that they would otherwise have to pay for. Youtube has also been the subject of much anger and controversy by its own content creators, who are frustrated with Youtube for not taking a stand and supporting its content creators from false copyright claims, thereby alienating content creators by allowing any person to file a copyright claim against their content and take down (or demonitize) their videos without a fair, impartial review process. This issue has come to the forefront of news again, and again, and again, leaving many people feeling that Youtube has sided with music labels and other major companies over its own content creators. Many Youtube content creators feel that their videos are protected under fair use, but feel slighted by Youtube because its “Content ID” method of filtering copyright claims are completely one-sided.

There are countless reasons why these things could be happening. One theory is that individual content creators don’t generally have the money to sue Youtube (or entities allegedly making false copyright claims against them) to enforce whatever fair use (or other lawful copyright use) they believe they are operating under. Major companies and records labels however, do have the money to sue Youtube regardless of whether they’re right or wrong, and have done so numerous times in the past.

The simple fact is that litigation is costly, and whether you’re in the right or wrong, you can’t prevent someone from suing you to make you to prove that your actions are justified (that doesn’t mean you can’t at least try to get that lawsuit dismissed); and having to fight numerous lawsuits, even if they’re faulty or frivolous lawsuits, becomes very costly very quickly. This is one of the unfortunate side effects of operating a successful social media platform.

The case name is Schneider and Pirate Monitor LTD v. Youtube, LLC, Google LLC, and Alphabet, Inc., and was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, San Jose Division on July 2, 2020. The case number is 5:20-cv-4423. You can check out the complaint here.

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