Google was handed an important legal victory this week when a federal judge ruled that the online giant was not legally responsible for users posting Viacom's copyrighted video content to the YouTube website. Viacom had sued Google three years ago for copyright infringement and was seeking $1 billion in damages.

That Google infringed Viacom's copyrights is not debatable. US District Judge Louis Stanton, who presided over the case from his New York courtroom, noted in his ruling that YouTube and its parent company Google "not only were generally aware of, but welcomed, copyright-infringing material being placed on their website."

But as he wrote in the ruling, "awareness" is not equivalent to "knowledge of specific and identifiable infringements of individual items." In other words, the sheer size of You Tube, and the sheer number of videos that get uploaded by individuals on an ongoing basis, makes identifying infringing items difficult if not impossible. The key, he said, was Google's response to the infringements. And when notified about such infringements, Google has always acted quickly to remove them.

The case is considered a major milestone for the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which, among other things, provides some liability protections for legitimate sites whose users upload infringing content. That is, YouTube isn't a pirate website whose main purpose is to steal copyrighted material.

Viacom had previously requested a summary judgment in the case and said that it will appeal the decision. "We believe that this ruling by the lower court is fundamentally flawed," a Viacom statement reads. "We believe that the Second Circuit \\[Court of Appeals\\] will ultimately decide these issues our way," Viacom General Counsel Michael Fricklas added.