In 2020, 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.
Schneider’s grievances are numerous, including that YouTube restricts access to its takedown tools, profits from infringement, and fails to terminate repeat infringers. Furthermore, since 98% of YouTube copyright issues are reportedly resolved with Content ID, Schneider says that YouTube has “entirely insulated” huge numbers of users from its repeat infringer policies.
The case thus far is notable for its oddities, including that co-plaintiff Pirate Monitor claimed that many of its copyrighted works had appeared on YouTube in breach of copyright but was later said to have uploaded those works itself before sending corresponding takedown notices.
Earlier this month the matter took another unusual turn when Schneider asked the court to order YouTube to hand over masses of information that would allow her to identify every user that had had a takedown notice filed against their account since 2015, to determine whether YouTube’s repeat infringer policies come up to scratch.
YouTube: Schneider Needs to Clarify Her Claims
While Schneider alleges massive infringement on YouTube, the Google-owned platform is now complaining that Schneider’s claims are unspecific. YouTube insists that Schneider should identify the copyrighted works she is complaining about and where infringements have taken place on YouTube, so that it has a “fair opportunity” to look into every single claim.
However, YouTube says that since Schneider is refusing to agree to a deadline or even acknowledge this dispute, it is now seeking relief from the court.
“Schneider’s Complaint alleges she owns three copyrighted works that were infringed on YouTube. It does not identify a single YouTube video that she claims is infringing. Instead, Schneider contends that her potential copyright claims against YouTube are boundless. She insists that she is allowed to put at issue dozens of unpleaded works and allegedly infringing videos, and that she can do so whenever she wants,” YouTube informs the court.
“Plaintiff’s approach is misguided. Defendants need to know, sufficiently before the end of discovery, the full universe of copyrighted works and alleged infringements at issue. Without that information, Defendants will be unable to take discovery to support their defenses, most of which are necessarily work- or video-specific.”
As background, YouTube says that in interrogatory response, Schneider has thus far purported to add 75 more works to the case, but hasn’t amended her complaint. The musician also agreed to identify all currently known infringements. These reportedly amounted to 51 videos but they only involved 24 works – a “moving target” according to YouTube.
“For most of the works that Schneider has not pleaded but contends are at issue, no infringement has been identified,” the video platform adds.
With that, YouTube demands that Schneider amends her complaint to identify the copyrighted works and all instances of infringement of those works on YouTube. Schneider, it appears, does not want to play ball.
Schneider: No Obligation to Detail Infringed All Infringed Works
In a response to YouTube’s motion, Schneider states that YouTube is wrong to say that the allegedly infringed works must be identified.
“A plaintiff in a copyright infringement action has no obligation to include in the complaint a complete listing of all of the works at issue,” her response to the motion reads, noting that since 75 such works were supplied to YouTube back in March, “there can be no debate that Defendants are on notice about what works are involved in the dispute.”
But Schneider goes further still, arguing that case law shows that “plaintiffs are not required to specify each and every instance of infringement” including the “who, what, where, when and why.”
Describing YouTube’s deadline to detail instances of infringement as “invented” and lacking in legal support, Schneider says that an issue at the very core of her complaint (YouTube’s refusal to grant her with access to Content ID) renders any deadline both “unfair and impractical”.
“To even attempt to identify every infringement, Plaintiff would have to constantly search for infringing videos using manual keyword searches that hit upon the specific words chosen by the uploading infringer. Such an endeavor would be futile and unduly burdensome,” her response reads.
“Absent access to Content ID, Defendants’ digital fingerprinting tool which automatically scans for infringing videos prior to upload, Plaintiff cannot meaningfully search for or identify the infringing videos. But Defendants easily can.
“Defendants’ position that Plaintiff must identify the URL of all infringing videos is thus the height of irony — the impossibility of manually locating all instances of infringement of her works without access to Content ID motivated this lawsuit.”
While Schneider does not directly demand access to Content ID to comply with YouTube’s deadline, her motion strongly suggests that the task could easily be achieved by YouTube, since it has access to Content ID.
To force her to identify all of the infringing videos manually prior to the close of discovery “would be patently unfair” she argues, adding that the court should deny YouTube’s motion in its entirety.
YouTube’s motion to set a case schedule and Schneider’s response can be found here and here (pdf)