According to the most recent order in Maria Schneider’s copyright lawsuit against YouTube, the long-running case is still scheduled for jury trial beginning Monday, June 12, 2023. Or at least what remains of it.
Based upon allegations that YouTube is a platform where rampant piracy goes unchecked, Schneider – with support from Uniglobe Entertainment and AST Publishing – had ambitions of class action certification, considerable sums in damages, and the jewel in the crown; universal access to YouTube’s Content ID system, to the benefit of creators everywhere.
Class Certification Denied
A key step towards achieving this goal was to have the plaintiffs’ case certified as a class action. In an order handed down last month, Judge James Donato explained why that wouldn’t happen.
“It has been said that ‘copyright claims are poor candidates for class-action treatment,’ and for good reason. Every copyright claim turns ‘upon facts which are particular to that single claim of infringement, and separate from all the other claims’,” his order denying certification reads.
“This is not to say that certification of a copyright infringement class is per se impossible. The Court certainly does not hold that here. But these factors underscore the challenges that plaintiffs face in seeking to obtain class certification.”
Unique Events, Unique Challenges
With its twists and turns, this lawsuit has presented constant challenges.
Lawsuits that seek to explore new ground are often complex, but the idea that YouTube’s restriction of access to Content ID effectively amounts to a breach of copyright law seems as much a stretch today as it did three years ago.
That this lawsuit originally featured a plaintiff called Pirate Monitor, which according to Google, deliberately uploaded thousands of videos and then proceeded to take them down under the DMCA, to boost infringement claims in this very lawsuit, is outrageous.
Pirate Monitor Ltd, Pirate Monitor LLC, and reported owner Gabor Csupo were subsequently targeted in a YouTube counterclaim for fraud/breach of contract. That Pirate Monitor LLC does not actually exist seemed to be part of the problem, a problem now solved after the Court dismissed the ‘company’ from the action.
As for the fraud/contract counterclaims against Csupo and Pirate Monitor Ltd, YouTube has decided not to pursue them, so only the DMCA notice claims remain.
Joint Trial Plan
Following a second pretrial conference on June 5, the Court issued orders in advance of the jury trial set for June 12.
In respect of Schneider’s infringement claims, the order states that the parties have agreed to try “six bellwether infringement works and six bellwether CMI [Content Management Information] violations” based on statutory damages on a per work (not per infringement) basis. The damages that may be awarded will be applied to the remaining claims on a pro-rata basis.
By agreement, the plaintiffs are required to dismiss AST Publishing as a party, dismiss the foreign unregistered works infringement claims by AST and Uniglobe, and dismiss Schneider’s claims in respect of CLFN (ClipFileName) metadata.
If all goes to plan, an in-person conference tomorrow afternoon will discuss the jury questionnaire responses, and by 7:00am June 12, the parties will have submitted a final joint list of witnesses to the Court.
“During witness testimony, all individuals at the tables for counsel will remain seated and silent except for the attorneys handling the examination. An opposing party’s presentations and witness examinations are not an opportunity for the other side to engage in discussions, take deliveries, rummage through boxes, and the like,” Judge Donata’s instructions read.
“Violators will be excused from the courtroom for the day and possibly the remainder of the trial, depending on circumstances.”
That seems unlikely to happen, perhaps as unlikely as this lawsuit fulfilling its key ambition of forcing change at YouTube, including universal access to Content ID. Unless Schneider’s emergency appeal to the Ninth Circuit regarding class certification suddenly turns the tide.