Skip to content

Viacom Int’l Inc., et al. v. YouTube, Inc., et al.

The Southern District of New York denied a motion by the plaintiffs to amend their complaint by adding a claim for punitive damages in their copyright infringement lawsuit against YouTube and Google. The original complaint sought statutory damages under Section 504(c) of the Copyright Act, or in the alternative actual damages plus profits under Section 504(b).

The plaintiffs argued that “their proposed amended complaint makes it clear that if plaintiffs elect to recover actual damages and profits rather than statutory damages, plaintiffs may also claim punitive damages for defendant’s conduct.” The defendants argued that as a matter of law punitive damages are not available in copyright infringement actions and the motion should be denied as futile.

The court explained that the Copyright Act makes no provision for punitive damages, and the Supreme Court has long held that the “protection given to copyrights is wholly statutory” and the “remedies for infringement ‘are only those prescribed by Congress’” (citing Sony Corp. of America v. Universal City Studios, Inc., 464 U.S. 417 (1984)). The court also relied on the Second Circuit which has stated that “punitive damages are not available under the Copyright Act of 1976,” regardless of whether a plaintiff is seeking statutory damages or the alternative of actual damages plus profits, citing Oboler v. Goldin, 714 F.2d 211 (2d Cir. 1983).

Plaintiffs had cited an earlier decision by the district court judge, Blanch v. Koons, 329 F.Supp. 2d 568 (S.D.N.Y. 2004), as support for their motion, but the judge acknowledged that his decision in Blanch is “no longer good law.” The court mentioned recent decisions from the Southern District of New York and other districts that called Blanch contrary to prevailing case law and not controlling, and held that “it is time to extinguish the ignis fatuus held out by Blanch” and stated unequivocally that common-law punitive damages cannot be recovered under the Copyright Act.