Judge: Photobucket Need Not Prevent Infringement By Users
A photographer is not entitled to an injunction ordering the photo-sharing site Photobucket to proactively prevent users from uploading her copyrighted photos, a judge has ruled.
In a decision quietly issued last week, U.S. District Court Judge Robert Sweet in New York ruled that the Digital Millennium Copyright Act's safe harbor provisions protect Photobucket from liability for users' copyright infringement. Those provisions generally immunize Web sites when users upload pirated material, as long as the sites remove it upon request.
Photographer Sheila Wolk alleged in a complaint filed last year that Photobucket allowed users to post photos of her work even after she protested. She argued in court papers that the photo-sharing site "not only had a duty to expeditiously remove all infringing images, but to continue to police its site to prevent reoccurrence of infringement."
Wolk sought an injunction requiring Photobucket to prevent users from uploading her work in the future. But Sweet ruled that Photobucket did not need to go that far. "Plaintiff's position places a burden on Photobucket beyond what is required under the DMCA," he wrote. The judge added that Wolk, not Photobucket, is responsible for policing the site for infringements and then sending takedown notices.
This same issue has come up in other cases, including lawsuits brought by content owners against video-sharing sites -- among them Veoh and YouTube. In general, the content owners have argued that they should not be required to issue new take-down notices every time people upload copies of the same material. But the courts have so far rejected that argument.
Internet copyright expert Eric Goldman, a professor at Santa Clara Law, says on his blog that Sweet's ruling could give a boost to other Web sites facing complaints by "overzealous copyright owners who want turnkey never-infringe-my-stuff-again services."
Sweet's decision draws heavily on a ruling made by U.S. District Court Judge Louis Stanton in Viacom's unsuccessfully lawsuit against Google's YouTube. Stanton said that YouTube was not liable for infringement because it removed Viacom clips when the company complained. Viacom has appealed that decision to the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals.