Commentary

Vimeo Gets Partial Win In Lip Dubs Lawsuit

Vimeo got a mixed ruling this week in a 4-year-old lawsuit filed by record labels over “lip dubs,” or videos featuring people lip-synching to famous songs. The labels argued that 199 clips on the service infringed copyright, and that Vimeo should be responsible. But IAC/Interactive's Vimeo said the Digital Millennium Copyright Act's safe harbors protected the company from liability.

Those safe harbors provide that Web platforms are not liable for copyright infringement by users, providing the sites take down infringing content upon request. But the safe harbors have some exceptions, including one that applies when companies know about infringing clips on the site.

The record labels said Vimeo was ineligible for the protection, arguing that the company knew about infringing clips on the service and refused to remove them. The labels also argued that Vimeo induced users to infringe copyright, and was willfully blind to infringement.

U.S. District Court Judge Ronnie Abrams in New York this week sided with Vimeo as to 144 of the clips, ruling that the site was protected by safe harbor principles. She ruled that the labels didn't prove that the company induced copyright infringement or was willfully blind to it.

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The record labels had argued that that some emails by Vimeo employees to users were enough to prove willful blindness to infringement, which would disqualify it for the safe harbors. For instance, in one case, a Vimeo employee told a user that the company's policy on copyrights was “don't ask, don't tell.”

But the judge ruled that comments of that sort “are simply insufficient to establish willful blindness of specific instances of infringement at issue in the litigation.”

She added that even though some employees' statements “indicate tacit, or at times explicit, acceptance of infringing uploads,” the evidence was too anecdotal to conclude that the company induced infringement.

The ruling wasn't totally favorable for Vimeo. Abrams also ruled that the record labels were entitled to proceed to trial regarding 55 clips that Vimeo employees “interacted” with, such as by “liking” them, or placing them on a “whitelist” that prevented other users from flagging them for terms-of-service violations.

She says in the ruling that Vimeo won't necessarily be liable for infringement in most of those cases, but that the record industry will be able to proceed with its case. Abrams also granted the record labels summary judgment for some of the clips that used pre-1972 music, which she said isn't covered by the DMCA's safe harbors.

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