YouTube Says Universal Had No ‘Right’ to Take Down Megaupload Video


YouTube said Friday that Universal Music abused the video-sharing site’s piracy filters when it employed them to take down a controversial video of celebrities and pop superstars singing and praising the notorious file-sharing service Megaupload.

YouTube’s copyright filters removed the all-star video, which features Kanye West, Mary J. Blige, and others, on Dec. 9. Google reinstated the four-minute spot Wednesday.

“Our partners do not have the right to take down videos from YT unless they own the rights to them or they are live performances controlled through exclusive agreements with their artists, which is why we reinstated it,” Google-owned YouTube said.

Megaupload produced the video for $3 million, and says it has waivers from all the celebrities. The Hong Kong-based service claims in a federal lawsuit filed Monday that the takedown was a “sham” designed to chill free speech. The suit seeks unspecified damages, alleging the label had violated a provision in copyright law that forbids bogus copyright claims.

Megaupload has some 50 million daily users, and the recording industry says it is a haven for music pirates.

YouTube’s statement came a day after Universal Music told a federal judge hearing the case that it had used YouTube’s content filters, known as the Content Management System, to have the video removed shortly after Megaupload had uploaded it. Universal never disclosed to U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken why it had the video removed.

But Universal told Wilken, an Oakland federal judge, that Megaupload is not entitled to monetary damages, (.pdf) even if Universal Music gamed YouTube’s filters.

Universal said Google’s private system doesn’t count as an official takedown notice under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, and thus it was immune from legal liability. It’s a position that Ira Rothken, Megaupload’s attorney, said was preposterous.

YouTube has engineered a filtering system enabling rights holders to upload music and videos they own to a “fingerprinting” database. When YouTube users upload videos, the system scans the upload against the copyright database for matches. If a full or partial match is found, the alleged rights holder can have the video automatically removed, or it can place advertising on the video and make money every time somebody clicks on the video.

Under the DMCA, online service providers like YouTube lose legal immunity for their users’ actions if they don’t remove allegedly infringing content if asked to by rights holders. If the content is not removed, internet service providers could be held liable for damages under the Copyright Act, which carries penalties of up to $150,000 per violation.

Megaupload’s lawsuit is pending.