A federal judge is refusing to toss out a class action lawsuit that claims YouTube enables piracy by providing copyright tools to big record labels and movie studios but not to smaller rights holders.
YouTube claimed the lawsuit contained a “potpourri” of deficiencies, including failing to clearly identify which of the accusers’ copyrights had actually been infringed, meaning the company was unable to effectively defend itself.
But in a ruling Monday, Judge James Donato called YouTube’s various arguments “unavailing” and “not well taken.”
The decision means that YouTube (owned by Google parent Alphabet) will need to continue facing a lawsuit that claims the platform has become a “hotbed of piracy” because the company provides “powerful copyright owners” with Content ID to block and monetize unauthorized uses of their content, but fails to do the same for “ordinary owners.”
Filed by composer Maria Schneider and a company called Pirate Monitor, the case claims YouTube forces songwriters and other smaller rights holders to instead use “vastly inferior and time-consuming manual means” of policing infringement, allowing piracy of their material to flourish on the platform.
For its part, YouTube says its done nothing wrong. In court documents, the company has argued that it’s spent “spent over $100 million developing industry-leading tools” to prevent piracy, but that it limits access because “in the hands of the wrong party, these tools can cause serious harm.”
To strike back, YouTube first countersued Pirate Monitor, claiming the service used “deceptive behavior” to gain access to Content ID, including “an elaborate scheme” in which it used pseudonyms to intentionally upload infringing content. Faced with those allegations, Pirate Monitor dropped out of the case last year, but is still on the hook for YouTube’s counterclaims.
More recently, YouTube moved to dismiss the allegations filed by Schneider and two remaining plaintiffs, who were added to the case when Pirate Monitor dropped out. It argued that the plaintiffs were choosing to “hide the ball” and had merely offered “generalized allegations” without “a single alleged infringement specified.”
Monday’s decision denied YouTube’s motion; the ruling is not on the actual merits of the case, but that it would essentially be premature to toss the case out in the earliest stages. The decision means the case will move forward to discovery and, eventually, a decision over whether Schneider and the others can represent hundreds or thousands of other copyright owners who allegedly had their works infringed on YouTube.
A spokesman for YouTube parent Alphabet did not return a request for comment. An attorney for the plaintiffs declined to comment.