ISPs Receive DMCA Safe Harbor Protection for Pre-1972 Sound Recordings

Capitol Records and other sound recording copyright owners sued Vimeo for copyright infringement, alleging Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) violations.  Vimeo is an Internet service provider that allows members to post videos the members create, which the general public can view.  The copyright owners alleged that some of the member-created videos included copyrighted content without authorization from the copyright owners.  The interlocutory appeal from the district court presented three issues to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.

(i) whether the DMCA §512(c) safe harbor applies to pre-1972 sound recordings.  This is a different issue than copyright owners’ rights under state copyright law for pre-1972 sound recordings.

(ii) whether evidence of some viewing by Vimeo employees of videos that played all or virtually all of ‘recognizable’ copyrighted songs was sufficient to satisfy the standard of red flag knowledge, which would make Vimeo ineligible for the DMCA safe harbor; and

(iii) whether Plaintiffs have shown that Vimeo had a general policy of willful blindness to infringement of sound recordings, which would justify imputing to Vimeo knowledge of the specific infringements.

The Second Circuit affirmed the district court’s rulings in part and vacated in part.  The Second Circuit ruled that the DMCA safe harbor, a federal statute, protects service providers from infringement liability for pre-1972 sound recordings, which are covered by state law.  Secondly, the Second Circuit ruled that some viewing by a service provider’s employee of a video that plays all or virtually all of a recognizable copyrighted song does not disqualify the service provider from safe harbor protection.  Thirdly, the Second Circuit ruled that the copyright owners did not show a policy of willful blindness by Vimeo that would have disqualified Vimeo from safe harbor protection.

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