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Copyright owners can't sue YouTube as a group: judge

YouTube home screen.
Wednesday's ruling marked the second major defeat in recent weeks for litigants suing Google over the unauthorized hosting of copyrighted material on YouTube.YouTube

NEW YORK — A U.S. judge Wednesday denied class-action status to copyright owners suing Google over the use of material posted on YouTube without their permission.

U.S. District Judge Louis Stanton in Manhattan denied a motion to certify a worldwide class of copyright owners in a long-running lawsuit over videos and music posted to popular website.

"The suggestion that a class action of these dimensions can be managed with judicial resourcefulness is flattering, but unrealistic," Stanton wrote.

The case ran in parallel with a $1 billion lawsuit filed in 2007 by Viacom Inc over Google's alleged unauthorized hosting on YouTube of clips uploaded by users from "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart," "South Park," "SpongeBob SquarePants."

Stanton threw Viacom's case out April 18, a year after the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated the copyright infringement case.

The proposed class action lawsuit was filed in 2007 and included as named plaintiffs the English Premier League, the French Tennis Federation and various music publishers.

One part of the proposed class would have included any copyright owner whose allegedly infringed videos were blocked by YouTube after it received a so-called takedown notice and blocked it.

Another part of the proposed class covered music publishers whose compositions were allowed to be used on YouTube without proper permission.

But Stanton said while the legal analyses he would have had to apply in the case would have been similar for the various plaintiffs, each copyright owner's case would need to be decided based on facts particular to their individual claims.

"Generally speaking, copyright claims are poor candidates for class-action treatment," he said.

Charles Sims, a lawyer for the plaintiffs at the law firm Proskauer Rose, said his clients were "going to think about their options," including asking the court for permission to appeal.

Representatives for Google did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The ruling marked the second major defeat in recent weeks for litigants suing Google over the unauthorized hosting of copyrighted material on YouTube.

In the Viacom case decided last month, Stanton sided with Google in finding that it was protected from Viacom's copyright claims thanks to the "safe harbor" provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

The 1998 federal law made it illegal to production of technology that could circumvent anti-piracy measures, but also limited the liability of online service providers over copyright infringement by their users.

Viacom has filed a notice of appeal from Stanton's ruling.

The case is Football Association Premier League Ltd et al v. YouTube Inc et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 07-03582.