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Copyright owners can't sue Google's YouTube as a group - judge

Visitors stand in front of a logo of YouTube at the YouTube Space Tokyo, operated by Google, in Tokyo February 14, 2013. REUTERS/Shohei Miya
Visitors stand in front of a logo of YouTube at the YouTube Space Tokyo, operated by Google, in Tokyo February 14, 2013. REUTERS/Shohei Miya

By Nate Raymond

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A U.S. judge on Wednesday denied class-action status to copyright owners suing Google Inc over the use of material posted on YouTube without their permission.

U.S. District Judge Louis Stanton in Manhattan denied a motion to certify a worldwide class of copyright owners in a long-running lawsuit over videos and music posted to the popular website.

"The suggestion that a class action of these dimensions can be managed with judicial resourcefulness is flattering, but unrealistic," Stanton wrote.

The case ran in parallel with a $1 billion lawsuit filed in 2007 by Viacom Inc over Google's alleged unauthorized hosting on YouTube of clips uploaded by users from "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart," "South Park," "SpongeBob SquarePants."

Stanton threw Viacom's case out on April 18, a year after the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated the copyright infringement case.

The proposed class action lawsuit was filed in 2007 and included as named plaintiffs the English Premier League, the French Tennis Federation, the National Music Publishers' Association (NMPA) and individual music publishers.

However, NMPA settled with YouTube in 2011.

One part of the proposed class would have included any copyright owner whose allegedly infringed videos were blocked by YouTube after it received a so-called takedown notice and blocked it.

Another part of the proposed class covered music publishers whose compositions were allowed to be used on YouTube without proper permission.

But Stanton said that while the legal analyses he would have had to apply in the case would have been similar for the various plaintiffs, each copyright owner's case would need to be decided based on facts particular to their individual claims.

"Generally speaking, copyright claims are poor candidates for class-action treatment," he said.

Allowing the case to move forward as a class action would turn it into a "mammoth proceeding," Stanton said. The plaintiffs said the members in their proposed worldwide class action would have numbered in the thousands.

Charles Sims, a lawyer for the plaintiffs at the law firm Proskauer Rose, said his clients were "going to think about their options," including asking the court for permission to appeal.

Abbi Tatton, a spokeswoman for Google, declined to comment.

The ruling marked the second major defeat in recent weeks for litigants suing Google over the unauthorized hosting of copyrighted material on YouTube.

In the Viacom case decided last month, Stanton sided with Google in finding that it was protected from Viacom's copyright claims thanks to the "safe harbor" provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

The 1998 federal law made it illegal to produce technology that could circumvent anti-piracy measures, but also limited the liability of online service providers over copyright infringement by their users.

Viacom has filed a notice of appeal from Stanton's ruling.

The case is Football Association Premier League Ltd et al v. YouTube Inc et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 07-03582.

(Reporting by Nate Raymond in New York; Editing by Tim Dobbyn and Stephen Coates)

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