A U.S. judge dismissed some damages claims in a copyright infringement lawsuit against Google Inc and its video-sharing Web site YouTube.com but left open the possibility that non-U.S. based rights owners could seek damages for live broadcasts, if they prevail.
A group of sports and music copyright holders, led by the UK-based Football Association Premier League, had argued that foreign works were exempt from any registration requirements under the U.S. Copyright Act.
But the judge ruled that damages are not available for any foreign works that were not registered in the United States, except those that fall under a "live broadcast exemption" in the Act.
Punitive damages are barred for all the claims, U.S. District Judge Louis Stanton wrote in a July 3 order, reiterating an earlier ruling he made in an associated case brought by Viacom Inc.
However, the judge agreed the plaintiffs could, if they prevail at trial, seek statutory damages on infringement of live events.
They may also recoup lost profits and disgorgement of profits realized by YouTube and Google on any claims they win at trial, plaintiffs attorney Louis Solomon said.
"It's more important to get the live broadcast covered because our lead plaintiff, that is their whole business," Solomon, of Proskauer Rose LLP, said.
"The class is hugely benefited," Solomon said of the ruling. "Concert promoters, boxing promoters, French tennis, Scottish soccer -- all of that now gets protected with statutory damages."
The plaintiffs' recovery could total billions of dollars if they prevail on most claims, Solomon said.
Google attorney Adam Barea called the damages claims dismissed by the court "baseless from the start."
"We are very pleased with the court's decision and will continue to vigorously defend against the remaining baseless claims in the case," Barea said in a statement.
Viacom, owner of movie studio Paramount and MTV Networks, filed a $1 billion copyright infringement lawsuit against YouTube and its deep-pocketed parent, Google, in 2007, for what the suit described as video piracy of Viacom-owned content.
The class action led by the Football Association was filed the same year in the Southern District of New York. The cases are consolidated for purposes of discovery.
The case is the Football Association Premier League et al vs. YouTube Inc and Google Inc, Case No. 07-3582, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.