A district court recently ruled that YouTube was insulated from copyright infringement claims made by Viacom for content that was uploaded by YouTube users. The judge ruled that YouTube was protected by the safe harbor provision of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) which provides immunity to Internet providers who allow users to upload content as long as the Internet provider promptly removes copyrighted content when notified by the copyright owner.
With this ruling, free speech on the Internet has also been protected. Randy Tyler, in an ACLU of Washington blog, writes that without this decision,
the Internet could devolve into a series of tubes in which access is restricted to a few, select, familiar faces. My request to share this blog would be impossible if YouTube and related sites were not covered by the DMCA safe harbor, because this blog is copyrighted and social networks would be subject to potential infringement claims. In fact, blogs and social networks might cease to exist.
This is because if Internet providers were liable every time one of their users uploaded copyrighted content,
providers would simply censor everything. The outcome would be disastrous for free speech online. The burden of reviewing all submitted content to determine whether it infringed a copyright would be too costly. Providers would either create heavy-handed rules to limit content-creation, or they would enter into agreements with certain content creators and allow only those entities to upload content. Either result limits free speech.
Stay tuned as Viacom has appealed the decision.