A judge Wednesday upheld one of the basic rules of the Internet, saving YouTube one billion dollars and letting the rest of us get on with business as usual. Viacom had accused YouTube of profiting from Viacom copyrighted content, but the judge in the case decided that the Google-owned website acted appropriately.

A little background: The Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s safe harbor principle means that sites like YouTube aren’t legally responsible for what Viacom would call piracy unless those user-driven sites fail to promptly remove copyrighted material after being alerted by the copyright holder. The judge in this case pointed out that YouTube took all of a day to remove offending content once the media conglomerate issued a mass takedown notice.

Each side was able to embarrass the other during this three-year trial. Viacom unearthed e-mails sent by YouTube’s founders acknowledging that users were uploading copyrighted content. Google’s legal team, however, discovered that Viacom was hiring stealth marketers to impersonate YouTube users and upload Viacom videos, then issuing takedown notices for those same clips.

YouTube is actually quite timid in its approach to copyright law and has come under fire from activists such as Creative Commons founder Lawrence Lessig. For example, the site summarily deletes videos and audio when its scrubbers automatically detect copyrighted content, regardless of whether that video falls under fair use protections. However, such overcompensation probably helped Google and YouTube win this lawsuit.

Viacom says it will appeal the ruling.

AP via Google:

Although it’s a major victory for Google and other Internet service providers, Wednesday’s decision won’t end a legal brawl that has already dragged on for more than three years. Viacom vowed to keep the case alive in appeals court, a process likely to last another year or two.

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