Big Record Labels Claim that Vimeo Intentionally Infringes on Artists’ Copyrights

January 31, 2013 - 3 minute read

vimeo_logo_white_on_blueVimeo is well-known for putting the “me” in music videos.  It prides itself on being a place for people who love to create and share videos.  However, big record labels, including Capitol Records, claim that several of its artists did not consent to the “sharing” of their work.

Capital Records, along with other big record labels, filed suit in New York against Vimeo three years ago, alleging that Vimeo has infringed upon copyrights on works by artists including The Beatles, Coldplay, Norah Jones, Nat King Cole and the Beach Boys. The suit was filed in reaction to Vimeo creator Jakob Lodwick’s coining of the term “lip dub” in 2006. Lip dubbing combines lip-synching and audio dubbing, while adding your own free interpretation in a music video. The big record labels contend that Vimeo encourages the infringement of their artists’ copyrighted works in order to create original videos.

Vimeo, in its defense, claims that lip dubs are fair use of the original music. The 1976 Copyright Act gave artists exclusive rights to reproduce or create similar works from their original works; distribute copies and phonorecords of their work to the public by sale, lease or rental; perform and display their work publicly; and perform a sound recording by means of digital audio (as of the 1995 amendment). However, there is a “fair use” exception to the Act. Others can reproduce the original work of another for various purposes, including criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship or research without infringing on the artist’s copyright. One of the factors to consider in determining whether it’s a fair use is whether the purpose and character of the use is of a commercial nature, or for nonprofit educational purposes.

Vimeo will have a difficult time arguing fair use successfully, because it permits its users to gain commercial profit from their lip dubbed music videos in two ways. First, Vimeo offers PRO accounts that allow users “a simple, high-quality platform to host their commercial content.” Not only can the Vimeo users promote their videos commercially, but Vimeo also profits by charges for its PRO accounts. Second, Vimeo just introduced “pay-to-view” and tip jar services for its users’ videos.

Vimeo also argues in its defense that it has a safe harbor from copyright infringement liability, as recently decided in the Viacom v. YouTube lawsuit. The New York Court of Appeals noted that “user-generated content” websites such as YouTube and Vimeo are not liable for copyright infringement unless they have actual knowledge of specific infringements by their users. The big record labels rebut that Vimeo’s business model differs from other sites like YouTube, because Vimeo employees actively encourage copyright infringement and also review the content of its users’ videos regularly.

On Friday, January 4, 2013, the big record labels moved to conclude their case against Vimeo by summary judgment.

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