Schneider et al v. YouTube, LLC et al

Filing 157

ORDER RE MOTION TO DISMISS. Signed by Judge James Donato on 8/1/2022. (jdlc1, COURT STAFF) (Filed on 8/1/2022)

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1 2 3 4 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 5 NORTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 6 7 MARIA SCHNEIDER, et al., Plaintiffs, 8 YOUTUBE, LLC, et al., Defendants. 11 United States District Court Northern District of California ORDER RE MOTION TO DISMISS v. 9 10 Case No. 20-cv-04423-JD 12 Plaintiffs Maria Schneider, Uniglobe Entertainment, and AST Publishing allege that 13 14 defendants YouTube and Google (together, YouTube) facilitate copyright infringement through 15 the use of a two-tiered copyright enforcement system. In plaintiffs’ view, YouTube provides 16 “powerful copyright owners,” such as major studios and recording companies, with access to 17 Content ID, a copyright management tool that allows owners to block uploads of infringing works, 18 monetize infringement, and track viewership statistics of infringing works. Dkt. No. 99 ¶¶ 1-2 19 (amended complaint). “Ordinary owners” such as plaintiffs are denied access to Content ID, 20 which is said to make it impossible for them to police their copyrights, resulting in widespread 21 piracy and infringement that they cannot meaningfully address. Id. YouTube asks to dismiss the amended complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 22 23 12(b)(6). Dkt. No. 103. The parties’ familiarity with the record is assumed, and dismissal is 24 denied. 25 To state a claim for copyright infringement, plaintiffs must allege (1) ownership of the 26 allegedly infringed material and (2) a violation by defendants of one of the exclusive rights 27 conferred by the Copyright Act. Perfect 10, Inc. v., Inc., 508 F.3d 1146, 1159 (9th 28 Cir. 2007); see also UMG Recordings v. Augusto, 628 F.3d 1175, 1178 (9th Cir. 2011). Plaintiffs 1 have done so here. The amended complaint alleges that at least one plaintiff owns each of the 2 works at issue and that YouTube infringed those works by displaying infringing videos. Dkt. No. 3 99 ¶¶ 16-17, 60 n.7, 64, 66-72, 74-75, 78-79. 4 5 “including” and “these works as millions of other works” in the amended complaint indicate an 6 attempt to allege claims for unidentified works. Dkt. No. 103 at 3, 6. The point is not well taken. 7 YouTube unduly slights the fact that the amended complaint specifically identifies allegedly 8 infringed works owned by each plaintiff. This is enough to provide fair notice to YouTube of the 9 claims against it. 10 United States District Court Northern District of California YouTube’s multiple arguments for dismissal are unavailing. It says that the phrases YouTube’s suggestion that the amended complaint founders on a heightened pleading 11 requirement is also misdirected. Dkt. No. 103 at 7. The allegations of infringement are sufficient 12 to give YouTube fair notice of the claims against it, which is all that Rule 8 requires. See, e.g., 13 Dkt. No. 99 ¶¶ 64, 71-72, 74, 78; Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a). 14 YouTube says that plaintiffs have not sufficiently pled ownership of certain works. Dkt. 15 No. 103 at 8. For example, it has proffered Copyright Office records that are said to cast doubt on 16 Uniglobe’s exclusive rights for three feature films. See Dkt. No. 104; Dkt. No. 99 ¶¶ 66-69. But 17 this is a motion to dismiss, and the Court declines to take into account such matters that are well 18 outside the amended complaint. See Whitaker v. AMT Tech, Inc., No. 21-cv-03045-JD, Dkt. No. 19 18 (N.D. Cal. Aug. 16, 2021) (“the sufficiency of a complaint for Rule 12(b)(6) purposes is 20 determined in the first instance within the four corners of the complaint”). In addition, the 21 amended complaint plausibly alleges that Uniglobe and AST Publishing own foreign works and 22 that the works are exempt from the registration requirements of the Copyright Act. See Dkt. No. 23 99 ¶¶ 70, 75-76. 24 YouTube contends that Schneider’s claims for 28 works added to the amended complaint, 25 Dkt. No. 99 ¶ 60 n.7, should be dismissed because she did not register copyrights for those works 26 prior to filing the original complaint. Dkt. No. 103 at 10-11. The Copyright Act states that “no 27 civil action” for copyright infringement “shall be instituted until preregistration or registration of 28 the copyright claim has been made in accordance with this title.” 17 U.S.C. § 411(a). 2 1 “[R]egistration is a precondition to filing an action for copyright infringement.” Gold Value Int'l 2 Textile, Inc. v. Sanctuary Clothing, LLC, 925 F.3d 1140, 1144 (9th Cir. 2019); see also Fourth Est. 3 Pub. Benefit Corp. v., LLC, 139 S. Ct. 881, 886 (2019) (“[R]egistration occurs, 4 and a copyright claimant may commence an infringement suit, when the Copyright Office 5 registers a copyright.”). United States District Court Northern District of California 6 It is true that some courts in this district have held that plaintiffs cannot “cure” failures to 7 meet the registration requirement with amended complaints. See, e.g., Kifle v. YouTube LLC, No. 8 21-cv-01752-CRB, 2021 WL 1530942, at *6 (N.D. Cal. Apr. 19, 2021); Izmo, Inc. v. Roadster, 9 Inc., No. 18-cv-06092-NC, 2019 WL 2359228, at *2 (N.D. Cal. June 4, 2019). The Court need 10 not reach the question of whether it might agree with that conclusion. That is because plaintiffs 11 here, unlike the ones in other cases, are not seeking to cure any defects. Schneider’s works 12 identified in the original complaint were properly registered. See Dkt. 1 ¶ 60. In the amended 13 complaint, Schneider added new claims for works that were registered prior to the filing of the 14 amended complaint. See Dkt. 99 ¶ 60 n.7. Consequently, the amended complaint complies with 15 the registration requirement. 16 YouTube’s scienter point is equally uncompelling. It says that plaintiffs did not plausibly 17 allege scienter for the claim that YouTube removed copyright management information (CMI) in 18 violation of 17 U.S.C. § 1202(b). Dkt. No. 103 at 13-14. Section 1202(b) states that “[n]o person 19 shall . . . intentionally remove or alter any copyright management information . . . knowing, or . . . 20 having reasonable grounds to know, that it will induce, enable, facilitate, or conceal an 21 infringement of any” copyright. 22 Our circuit has determined that Section 1202(b) requires “the defendant to possess the 23 mental state of knowing, or having a reasonable basis to know, that his actions will induce, enable, 24 facilitate, or conceal infringement.” Stevens v. Corelogic, Inc., 899 F.3d 666, 673 (9th Cir. 2018) 25 (internal quotations omitted). “The mental state requirement in Section 1202(b) must have a more 26 specific application than the universal possibility of encouraging infringement; specific allegations 27 as to how identifiable infringements ‘will’ be affected are necessary.” Id. at 674. 28 Plaintiffs have alleged that here. The amended complaint states that YouTube knew that 3 1 files containing audio and/or video works routinely contain CMI, that CMI is valuable for 2 protecting copyright holders, and that the distribution of works with missing CMI on YouTube has 3 induced, enabled, facilitated, and concealed copyright infringement. Dkt. No. 99 ¶¶ 83-86, 101. 4 The plausible inference from these and similar allegations is that YouTube removed the CMI from 5 plaintiffs’ works with knowledge that doing so carried a “substantial risk” of inducing 6 infringement. See Stevens, 899 F. 3d at 676. YouTube’s concern about potential remedies, Dkt. No. 103 at 12, is premature. The 7 8 question of what, if any, remedies may be due to plaintiffs will be taken up as warranted at a later 9 time. 10 United States District Court Northern District of California 11 IT IS SO ORDERED. Dated: August 1, 2022 12 13 JAMES DONATO United States District Judge 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 4

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