No punitive damages for Viacom in YouTube suit

March 11, 2008, 4:56 PM UTC

By Michal Lev-Ram

A New York federal judge has ruled that Viacom will not be able to collect punitive damages in its $1 billion copyright suit against Google’s YouTube.

Viacom sued YouTube for copyright infringement in March 2007, saying the popular video site has “built a lucrative business out of exploiting the devotion of fans to others’ creative works.” At the time, Viacom also said that almost 160,000 “unauthorized” clips — snippets of programs like “The Daily Show” — had been available on YouTube.

But Viacom’s recent attempt to add a claim for punitive damages — sometimes awarded on top of compensatory damages to discourage the defendant from engaging in similar conduct again — was denied. U.S. District Court Judge Louis Stanton ruled that copyright law does not allow for punitive damages, saying that “…the Supreme Court has long held that ‘the protection given to copyrights is wholly statutory.’ ”

Of course, the recent ruling doesn’t say anything about the final outcome of the court battle between the two companies, which is still a long way from over. And if Viacom wins the case, it can still collect statutory damages ranging from $750 to $30,000 per violation (and up to a whopping $150,000 if they can prove the infringement was committed willfully).

Google has maintained that it is working with big media firms to resolve copyright issues with YouTube. Some companies, like Universal Music Group, have decided to partner with the search giant. But Viacom said last year that after a great deal of “unproductive negotiation” its only option was to “turn to the courts.”

Neither company could be reached for comment.