YouTube at center of $1 billion lawsuit

Lawyers for Viacom and Google jousted Friday during a brief pretrial hearing in the media conglom’s $1 billion copyright lawsuit against YouTube.

At issue was whether federal judge Louis Stanton would allow Viacom to pursue punitive damages in the case. Stanton decided not to rule on punitive damages Friday after hearing oral arguments, but said he plans to do so in mid-February after further briefs are filed by both sides.

A favorable judgment could potentially make the final award well north of the $1 billion sought in the original suit if Viacom proves that the legal standard of “malice and willfulness” had been met by the uploading of copyrighted clips of “The Daily Show” and other shows. It would add punitive damages on top of statutory damages, which are fixed by law in a range that is capped at $150,000 per infringement.

The definition of infringement is also likely to be a contentious one, specifically whether the uploading of several clips from the same “Colbert Report” seg constitutes multiple infringements or just one.

The case, which made big headlines in 2007, is on a slow track, with jury selection and trial proceedings not expected before early 2009.

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