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Google Says Viacom Suit 'Threatens Expression'

Google  filed a strongly-worded response last night to Viacom's  copyright infringement suit against its video sharing subsidiary, YouTube.

Google rejected allegations that it is violating Viacom's intellectual property rights, saying it not only complies with its obligations under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), but "go[es] well above and beyond what the law requires."

In its answer, filed in the U.S. District Court in the Southern District of New York, Google also charged that Viacom's complaint "threatens the way hundreds of millions of people legitimately exchange information... and political and artistic expression."

In a suit that may eventually yield new precedent, Viacom sued Google in March for "massive intentional copyright infringement." The conglomerate wants to prevent YouTube from showing clips of its television programs that users copied and posted to the site.

But Google maintains that the DMCA balances the rights of copyright holders against the need "to protect the Internet as an important new form of communication."

Eric Goldman, director of the High Tech Law Institute at the Santa Clara University School of Law, noted that the DMCA was passed when the Internet was still in its infancy, and does not take into account new technology and business models that didn't exist at the time.

"This case exists because what Congress did in 1998 made sense then but does not make sense today," he told internetnews.com.

Google is relying on a safe harbor provision for its defense, which protects Web site owners from liability for what users post to those sites. But, according to Goldman, the statute can be interpreted in two different and mutually-exclusive ways.

Even though Google has requested a jury trial, matters of law -- such as interpreting a statute -- are matters for the presiding judge to decide, he said.

"If the judge has leanings one way or the other, it may be fairly determinative," he said.

"The lawsuit may yield some important and potentially novel law."