More than a year after Grammy award-winning musician Maria Schneider filed a class action lawsuit against YouTube, claiming massive infringement on the platform and serious deficiencies in copyright enforcement measures, the parties are still bumping heads in court.
Schneider’s grievances are wide-ranging and include allegations that YouTube restricts access to its takedown tools, profits from piracy, and fails to disconnect repeat infringers due to them receiving ‘protection’ under YouTube’s Content ID system.
As previously reported, shadowy business entity ‘Pirate Monitor’ claimed to be a victim of YouTube’s policies but following a YouTube investigation, was found to have secretly uploaded its own content before sending bogus takedown notices. It later exited the lawsuit but YouTube wasn’t letting that go.
Despite this apparent canary in the coalmine, the action has continued, with Schneider asking the court to compel YouTube to hand over information on every user that had received a takedown notice filed against their account since 2015, to determine whether YouTube’s repeat infringer policies come up to scratch.
Back in March, Schneider indicated that she wanted to add dozens more copyright works to the three originally listed in the case but denied that she needed to identify each infringement of the works on YouTube. Without access to Content ID – an argument that circles back to the core of her complaint – that would be laborious, she argued.
Motion For Leave to File Amended Complaint
Early July, Schneider filed a motion with the court for leave to file her first amended complaint. Schneider indicated she wanted to add two companies – Uniglobe Entertainment, LLC and AST Publishing. YouTube and Google were not impressed.
“The proposed amendments, most notably to add two new parties as putative class representatives, come only after discovery confirmed glaring deficiencies in Schneider’s claims, and after Pirate Monitor dismissed its claims with prejudice under a cloud of fraudulent behavior,” the companies told the court.
“The request for leave continues Schneider’s shifting sands approach to the litigation. Her original complaint identified only three copyrighted works over which she was suing, and did not identify a single alleged infringement of those works on YouTube. Schneider now proposes amending to add seventy-five new copyrighted works to the case, still without identifying corresponding alleged infringements.”
YouTube/Google said the proposed “dramatic expansion” of Schneider’s claims sit alongside her refusal to accept a deadline for “closing the universe” of works in suit. The proposed new plaintiffs only make matters worse, since they too have not provided a list of copyrighted works or alleged infringements.
Overall, YouTube believes it has spent more than enough time (“many hundreds of hours”) on discovery when dealing with the claims of Schneider and Pirate Monitor, who – according to YouTube – “turned out to be a fraudster”. Going over everything again would create a huge burden when considering the new claims of US-based Uniglobe (which reportedly has rights over three motion pictures) and AST, a Russian publishing house, which asserts rights over at least nine print and audiobooks.
In summary, YouTube told the court that a year into the case, Schneider’s proposed amendments are not only too late but also raise new works and new legal issues, which would unfairly prejudice YouTube. For these reasons and more, YouTube asked the court to deny Schnieder’s motion for leave to amend.
Schneider’s Reply – Court Should Allow Amended Complaint
In her response filed late last week, Schneider argues that she is completely within her rights to amend her complaint and places the blame for delays firmly on YouTube and Google.
Schneider says that “delay alone” is not sufficient to deny leave to amend and repeats that she is under no obligation to identify the 78 works now being proposed. In addition, YouTube/Google’s claims that the addition of AST and Uniglobe was unduly delayed “fares no better”, since negotiations had been underway with these companies since late 2020.
Initial investigations apparently took several months and additional time was spent in a “weeks-long meet-and-confer” with YouTube/Google to determine whether they would consent to the filing of the amendments.
Schneider then provides a laundry list of events that she claims resulted in YouTube itself introducing delays, including YouTube asking for time to consider the amended complaint before consent was provided, asking for more time to review it, and then not objecting to the holding of meet-and-confer discussions concerning the amendments.
New Plaintiffs Aren’t Meant to Make Up For Case ‘Weaknesses’
Interestingly, Schneider also asks the court not to credit YouTube/Google’s argument that the inclusion of AST and Uniglobe is a measure to make up for supposed weaknesses in her case. That appears to relate to a licensing agreement with Schneider’s publisher that meant that some of her works were included in the Content ID program that Schenider insists she has been denied access to.
“Defendants appear to refer to a licensing agreement with Schneider’s publisher. But that agreement licenses only the works that Schneider’s publisher controlled and had the right to license,” Schneider’s counsel writes.
“But Schneider’s agreement with her publisher did not grant the publisher control over her works and did not provide her publisher the right to license those works without her written consent, which was never given, which means YouTube’s licensing agreement does not extend to Schneider’s works. Moreover, even if some of her works were
inappropriately part of Content ID for some period of time, not all works were.
“Regardless, even if Schneider’s claim was somehow deficient, that is not a valid reason to deny leave to amend, particularly at this stage of the proceeding,” the filing continues.
“Defendants claim that amendment would ‘moot’ the work it has already undertaken..[..]..but because Schneider is not withdrawing her claim, whatever work Defendants have already undertaken remains relevant.”
The court is yet to rule on the motion to file Schneider’s amended complaint but whatever the outcome, this case is clearly being fought and challenged at every turn. That tends to suggest that the year spent on it thus far could be just the beginning in what is already a controversial and extremely expensive piece of litigation.