A major legal battle between the recording industry and Vimeo has gone in the latter company’s favor. The 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals has struck down three separate arguments presented by a group of plaintiffs (including Capitol Records), who were searching for the legal precedent they need to challenge the “safe harbor” status provided to video platforms like Vimeo by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

According to the DMCA, sites like Vimeo and YouTube are not liable for infringing content posted by their users, so long as they respond to valid copyright claims in a timely manner. This safe harbor status has served as a shield for online video platforms, and it has held up multiple times in court. Most significantly, YouTube won multiple decisions against Viacom, with the safe harbor provision affirmed in the process.

In the EMI v. Vimeo case, the plaintiffs attempted to attack safe harbor from several new angles. In particular, they set their crosshairs on so-called “lip dub” videos, in which full audio tracks are matched up with a series of lip-syncing videos. Some lip dubs have received millions of views on Vimeo.

Lip Dub – Flagpole Sitta by Harvey Danger from amandalynferri on Vimeo.

According to the above video’s description, its production team includes at least one Vimeo employee, and the plaintiffs argued that, because a Vimeo employee was aware of the infringing lip dub, the company’s safe harbor status could be overturned. “The mere fact that a video contains all or virtually all of a “recognizable,” copyrighted sound recording and was viewed in some fashion by a service provider’s employee is insufficient to prove knowledge or red flag knowledge of infringement,” reads the court’s decision.

The plaintiffs also paid particular attention to videos containing pre-1972 audio. Those tracks are not subject to federal copyright law, but are instead regulated by individual state policies. Nonetheless, the recent decision went Vimeo’s way. “Service providers would be compelled either to incur heavy costs of monitoring every posting to be sure it did not contain infringing pre-1972 recordings,” it reads, “or incurring potentially crushing liabilities under state copyright laws.”

While Vimeo is the biggest winner in this case, YouTube has come away with an important victory as well. The world’s top video site is itself under attack from many organizations within the music industry, some of which are looking to update the 20-year-old DMCA. With this decision, the validity of the DMCA has been reinforced.

The full legal decision for Capitol Records v. Vimeo can be found here.

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