Judge Cuts Claims in Vimeo 'Lip Dub' Copyright Lawsuit
A New York federal judge largely sided with Vimeo and its lawyers at Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan on Wednesday in the video sharing website's copyright spat with a group of EMI Music record labels.
The litigation, which bears a resemblance to Viacom's much-larger copyright showdown with YouTube, concerns close to 200 copyrighted recordings that Vimeo users included in video uploads to the site. The record labels sued in 2009, claiming that Barry Diller-backed Vimeo should be held liable for widespread infringement. But U.S. District Judge Ronnie Abrams in Manhattan concluded Wednesday that safe harbor provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act shield Vimeo from the record labels' copyright claims for most of the videos in question.
Still, the decision wasn't a knock-out for the defense. Abrams found that triable issues remain for 55 recordings named in the complaint, including everything from "All You Need is Love" by The Beatles to "Peaches" from The Presidents of the United States of America. The judge also granted the recording companies' motion for summary judgment on any videos containing music copyrighted before Feb. 15, 1972, ruling that the DMCA doesn't apply to the earlier recordings.
The EMI labels are represented by Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp's Russell Frackman. Vimeo has Quinn Emanuel's Robert Raskopf. Neither lawyer immediately responded to requests for comment.
The labels' 2009 complaint accuses Vimeo of encouraging its users to infringe copyrighted recordings by EMI artists, including by groups as famous as The Beach Boys and as obscure as Fountains of Wayne. Vimeo users allegedly included many of the tracks in "lip dubs"—a term coined by Vimeo's founder for videos of people lip-syncing to well-known songs. The recording companies argue that the infringement served a commercial purpose for Vimeo, drawing new members to the site and generating revenues.
Vimeo moved for summary judgment last September, arguing that the company is entitled to protection under safe harbor provisions of the DMCA that protect content-sharing sites from copyright claims if they comply with owners' requests to remove infringing works. The record labels countered that Vimeo doesn't meet the definition of a "service provider" under the DMCA and therefore isn't eligible for safe harbor protection.
Judge Abrams largely sided with Vimeo Wednesday on the question of whether its business model fits the definition of "service provider". However, in the case of 55 videos the labels identified—10 of which Vimeo employees actually uploaded—the judge found she needs further information.
"A triable issue exists as to whether the ten employee-uploaded videos were 'stored at the direction of a user' and as to whether Vimeo had knowledge or awareness of infringing content in the fifty-five of the 199 videos-in-suit with which Vimeo employees interacted," Abrams wrote.
Abrams also granted the recording labels' motion for partial summary judgment that the DMCA doesn't apply to pre-1972 recordings—although a quick scan of the songs attached to the complaint shows that about 80 percent of the songs were recorded more recently. The issue of the DMCA's application to pre-1972 recordings came up in April of this year in Universal Music Group's copyright case against digital music service Grooveshark, with a New York state appellate court siding with the label's argument that the DMCA doesn't apply to older recordings.
Spokespeople for Vimeo and for EMI didn't immediately respond to our requests for comment, though Vimeo sent an automatic response directing us to the company's DMCA claim form.