The suit, which many consider an important case on infringement and interpretation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, stems from a Viacom complaint that YouTube was aware of infringing content being present on its Web site and did not remove it.
The district court had ruled that YouTube did not have knowledge of specific pieces of infringing content, and therefore was protected under the safe harbor provision of the copyright law.
On Thursday, the appeals court upheld that ruling in part, but asked that the district court reconsider the case and ask more questions about how much YouTube employees knew about specific, infringing videos and whether the company had shown “willful blindness” to addressing certain clips.
“[A] reasonable jury could conclude that YouTube had knowledge or awareness...at least with respect to a handful of specific clips,” the court ruled.
Both Viacom and YouTube said in statements that they are happy with the ruling.
“The Second Circuit has upheld the long-standing interpretation of the DMCA and rejected Viacom’s reading of the law,” said YouTube in a statement. “All that is left of the Viacom lawsuit that began as a wholesale attack on YouTube is a dispute over a tiny percentage of videos long ago removed from YouTube. Nothing in this decision impacts the way YouTube is operating. YouTube will continue to be a vibrant forum for free expression around the world.”
Viacom said in a statement, “We are pleased with the decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals. The Court delivered a definitive, common sense message – intentionally ignoring theft is not protected by the law.”