Universal Blasts Megaupload in Video Takedown Flap

Universal Music ripped into Megaupload in a new court filing, declaring it a pirate site in the label’s legal defense of a suit accusing it of abusing copyright law by forcing YouTube to take down a video of famous musicians and celebrities praising the notorious file-sharing service.

Hong Kong-based Megaupload sued the record label last month in federal court after Megaupload’s four-minute video featuring Kanye West, Mary J. Blige, will.i.am and others was removed from YouTube. Megaupload is seeking damages on claims the $3 million video’s removal soiled its “reputation as a responsible provider of file services — the very reputation that Megaupload’s investment in the Megaupload video and its numerous endorsements was designed to enhance.”

Universal told an Oakland, California federal judge that the assertion belies the truth. The label noted that the U.S. trade representative placed Megaupload last month on the official list of “Notorious Markets” which are “engaged in piracy and counterfeiting.”

“Megaupload, however, is publicly known to have a very different reputation, namely, as a notorious service that deliberately provides instant access to massive numbers of infringing copies of music and movie content,” Kelly Klaus, Universal’s attorney, wrote (.pdf) Tuesday. Klaus added that “When discovery opens for both sides, defendant fully intends to take discovery regarding these matters, which all go to Megaupload’s claimed ‘reputation,’ the harm it says it has suffered, and the types of users it aims to reach, including with its video posting.”

Megaupload, which has some 50 million daily users, claims that the five-day takedown ending Dec. 9 was a ‘sham‘ designed to chill free speech. The suit seeks unspecified damages. Among other things, it alleges the label had violated a provision in copyright law that forbids bogus copyright claims. The video has been viewed more than 2.6 million times.

YouTube, meanwhile, claimed Universal Music abused the video-sharing site’s piracy filters when it employed them to take down the spot.

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 Digital Millennium Copyright Act, 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.